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LEVITAçãO / LEVITATION

Craig Ruddy – New Exhibition

Craig Ruddy captures the sharp light of Rio de
Janeiro as it is reflected by the rippling sea, bouncing off the white sands to
create a distinctive, mauve haze. The shards of light overlap and fragment, as
though refracted by panes of glass, and the imagery in Ruddy’s Levitation
series is further affected by the glass sheets superimposed over his most
recent paintings. Outlines of athletic figures immersed in water, tumbling in
the frothy surf and leaping on the beach sometimes resemble the shimmering
profiles of a mirage. The horizon shifts. Shadows seem to appear and disappear,
but in fact, they really do.

For Ruddy has invented a risky and original new
technique for his Levitation series. Essentially it
involves three separate processes. The first is the creation of a canvas as a
backdrop, mixing and splashing watery paints in aquamarine, violet, sky blue
and sandy colours. The abstract nature of the “scenery” is further
accentuated by folds in the stretched canvas, which sometimes mimic the tidal
marks on a beach. Within a deep frame, Ruddy then inserts panels of glass in
front of each canvas. Onto the glass panes, sometimes on both the front and
back surfaces, he sketches figures and details of the landscape in black ink.
He uses quick-drying Japanese ink specially produced for adhering to glass, as
well as the more traditional Indian ink, which can take up to a month to dry.
Later Ruddy manipulates the figures he depicts, scratching into the black
line-work, building up layers, and spraying the forms so that the solid
outlines dilute and grow softer.

Most of the tangled and matted shading is contained
within the silhouettes of his male athletes and female bathers, suspended in
washes of blue. Conversely to the gestural techniques and
the limited palette, these works are more realistic and
sparser than many of Ruddy’s earlier portraiture. For the first time, Ruddy has
used photographs and video footage to observe the poses of his dynamic, playful
figures. This might partially explain the greater sense of realism in such
works as Elevation, Somersault, Ascent and Reflection, portraits which are
expressive rather than expressionistic. The water appears to cling to the
contours, and crystallizes on the glass. The end result is a strata of
line-work and colour, with each progressive layer casting its own shadow.
“You figuratively sink into them,” says Ruddy of his seascapes.

The series was inspired by Daniel and Jonathan,
two Brazilian gymnasts almost identical in stature, who Ruddy saw one day
performing the stylized moves of capoeira on the beach at Ipanema. “Tall
and tan and young and handsome,” these
lithe male figures in the lyrics of that famous bossa nova jazz standard, whose
praises have been duly sung by the likes of Astrid Gilberto, Ella Fitzgerald,
Shirley Bassey and Eartha Kitt, reappear in Ruddy’s paintings as acrobats whose
movements defy gravity.

“I wanted to show a sense of fragility
and heightened energy,” says the artist. “In Rio,
you float and smile.”

Levitation is about surface and depth, waves of colour and an
undertow lurking in the paint. Fingerprints and smudges look like footprints in
the sand. With light and grace, Craig Ruddy again focuses on the constant ebb
and flow of beauty.

Jonathan Turner, Rome. November 2009

text by Jonathan Turner, the award-winning Rome-based art critic and curator.

Catalogue EssayCraig Ruddy captures the sharp light of Rio de Janeiro as it is reflected by the rippling sea, bouncing off the white sands to create a distinctive, mauve haze. The shards of light overlap and fragment, as though refracted by panes of glass, and the imagery in Ruddy’s Levitation series is further affected by the glass sheets superimposed over his most recent paintings. Outlines of athletic figures immersed in water, tumbling in the frothy surf and leaping on the beach sometimes resemble the shimmering profiles of a mirage. The horizon shifts. Shadows seem to appear and disappear, but in fact, they really do

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