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' . . .and they have escaped the weight of darkness . . '

July 2012
James Compton, Arts Writer

Craig Ruddy   |  ‘...and they have escaped the weight of darkness'

Individual figures in this latest body of work by Craig Ruddy fix the viewer with studied recognition, enhancing the intimacy of confrontation. It is an assemblage that leaves a lingering impression, and provokes a variety of responses that coalesce around cycles of renewal and rebirth; the sloughing of skins in a soulful mutability of inter-relationships that define human existence. He explores aspects of the noble truths that we all must contend with while surrounded by profane distractions in our day-to-day lives.

Viewed in sequence, the collection has an evolutionary language encoded within delicate watermarks of experiential progression. The non-traditional nature of the medium, archival ink on tempered glass, gives an ephemeral quality as fragile as the emotive subject matter.

Ruddy has overtly acknowledged the debt of inspiration owed to the Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds while creating this series of work, and has borrowed the title ‘...and they have escaped the weight of darkness' with the full support of his multi-instrumentalist muse. Arnalds' music ascribes northern hemisphere melancholia, repetitive and cyclical in melodic structure, which moved Ruddy to tears at regular intervals. Tears, perhaps, of release which in turn brought forth a sense of affirmation reflected in the artist's deep feeling for his subject matter.

It was while living in Brazil that he began exploring this new amalgam of techniques. Inspired by the dynamism of coastal Latin America, Ruddy began painting and drawing on glass, trying to capture the dichotomy of knife-edge danger and irrepressible life-force that surrounded him. 

Working with ink on both sides of the glass, he renders a depth of image which suspends colour and form in a sort of translucence - and brings a filtered quality to the finished artwork. The tidal contours of archival ink, often in several subtle layers, are outlined and embellished by a variety of implements - ink pens, calligraphy brushes, a range of nibs, even rags - and exhibit that coarse-woven line that has characterised some of his best known previous work. There is canvas behind the glass, roughly coated in plaster, and in some cases, given an acrylic or oil wash to add background mood to the more intricate ink work.

Ruddy has pushed this combination of media in a deliberate but exploratory fashion while ensconced in his Sydney studio. The ink is a fickle substance, and after application needs time to dry - a patient process that is finished off under heat lamps. As it moves and evaporates, a tension between what can be controlled and what flows across the glass lets new textures develop and invites the subtle creep of random elements.

The title artwork presents an imposing union. When viewed with Arnalds' musical accompaniment, it takes on a heightened presence, an expressive new take on a maternal archetype. Deep-set charcoal eyes stare with piercing conviction, hands protectively surrounding her newborn infant as it suckles at its mother's proud breast. Feet firmly grounded, she stands steadfast with hips cocked, ready to take on all challengers in defence of her offspring.

In sequence, through a captivating blue-washed gaze, the companion work of the same female subject shimmers through a waxy dreamscape that moves beyond the weight, as the title says, and emerges from the shadows refreshed and reassured. 

In a time of great social upheaval, as we face the decline and fall of many old certainties, Ruddy presents us with an alternative take on existential choices.  To reach the light one must first understand the darkness. He lays down an invitation to let go of inhibitions and take an elemental journey through a floating spiritual universe, redolent with feminine energy. The most important attribute may simply be the courage to begin.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             James Compton, Arts Writer

Richard Martin Art