From Fountains and Alligators

Small, finely elaborated and delicate collages. Ruth Marten creates these by overpainting, expanding and colouring. At the same time they appear light and engaging. The first retrospective “Dreamlover” of the 70 year old American artist Ruth Marten at the Max Ernst Museum in Brühl shows her extensive oeuvre from the beginning until today, collages, painting and sculpture.

We live in a stormy collage that is constantly changing

Ruth Marten’s career is quite unusual and varied. She began as a tattoo artist in New York in the 1970s, worked for many renowned magazines and publishers as an illustrator, and is now a freelance artist. At the beginning of the 2000s, she began to work with her now well-known method, she began to buy and collage small graphics, engravings, lithographs, etchings and illustrations from books of the 18th and 19th centuries, for example at flea markets. She supplemented these with drawings or added colours, so that completely new small works were created, which contain an old, traditional and a new, contemporary note. Old and new linked together in the here and now. Marten does this with a captivating attention to detail. But the observer often fails to recognize where the changes begin and where they end. A precise and close look is necessary to perceive the new.

She takes up themes from zoology, fashion and the current events of this time and transforms them into current motifs and thus into new perspectives. Were these perhaps already present in the subconscious? Here she charges the motifs with new connotations, with sexual energy, lyrical or even playful the new works come along.

“The familiar past gives us a more secure feeling than the unknown future, there is hardly any doubt about that. Perhaps I long for the comradeship that all these artists, illustrators, map makers and social satirists, whose lively visualizations adorn these old pages, offer me. I also admit to being a hard case of Max-Ernst envy (who isn’t?!) even though I chose materials from the 18th century. I am impressed by their eagerness and longing to define the world they know,” says Ruth Marten.

The Max Ernst Museum in Brühl is now showing an extensive exhibition that examines Marten’s work from then until today in detail. The New York artist, who has already experienced so much, encounters almost five decades of creativity and artistic development with a great deal of wit, irony and cheerfulness. Ruth Marten stands in the tradition of Max Ernst, and so this retrospective in this small but extremely worth seeing museum is also close at hand.

“Before these collages, I was busy for 17 years depicting hair from all possible perspectives. The work may change, but not the doggedness/obsession. Drawing is the passion behind everything. What interests me most is the “what” and the “how”. (Ruth Marten)

It is important to the artist that she feels that when she finds a picture, a graphic, she can only then edit it. And this is the only way to create a feeling in the viewer. Many artists underestimate the feeling that colours and forms can convey and create in art and refer only to technology. This was already a far-reaching discussion among artists in the 19th century, especially in France.

There are no limits to Marten’s possibilities of finding pictures

In doing so, she draws on a stock of already existing prints. In this way she also connects the art history of this period, more precisely of the 18th and 19th centuries, with that of today, with contemporary art. Thus it basically creates a new field of art, far away from digital media. Ruth Marten returns to the intellectual roots of art and reinvents them.

Her works make it possible to link different worlds with each other. Fabulous creatures and colourful animals carry us off into a fairytale world, yet the graphics reflect an old and a new world and time, a current event or a fashion. Fantasy, old and new, past and present, meet and thus create a different perspective on us, on the world, on what surrounds us.

The exhibition shows almost the entire oeuvre of Ruth Marten and thus a far-reaching overview. The early paintings on the theme of hair form the framework and lead to the small fine prints that Marten worked on. The collages are finely elaborated, with a love of detail. The result is a world full of grace.