Friday, October 24, 2008

Kay Ruane : "Room with a View"

There’s a modest yet captivating exhibition at the Jenkins Johnson Gallery featuring graphite illustrations by Kay Ruane. Titled Room with a View, the works portray female figures within interior spaces observing scenes out of a window.

The images are all quite well rendered. The folds of skin on the bottoms of feet and hints of veins are impressively observed. Shading and dimension are artfully realized.

More engrossing than the technical mastery is Ruane’s use of symbolism and juxtaposition. The figures loom large in the compositions as the first subject we see, yet we are distanced by their hidden faces. Features and emotions are all masked from us by their hair. Yet we can easily see faces of subjects in framed photos elsewhere in the scene.

The women are always depicted in black and white while other “secondary” subjects such as flowers, jewelry and dresses come to life with vibrant colors.

The interior scenes are serene and calm, as are the figures, yet there are catastrophic events happening just outside of the window.

The women look out to the world with a seeming longing to escape to or interact with the outside, yet make no noticeable effort to do so. Hallways and stairs appear on the edges of some of the pieces yet are unutilized and even barred by velvet ropes.

Ruane manages to fill each work with a rich minutiae of symbolic detail that I could stare at and try to decipher for hours.

One detail that was of particular interest to me was the fact that almost all of the women wore wedding bands. Not ornate, glittery, diamond-encrusted rings, but simple, almost featureless bands.

It was once believed that a vital blood vessel connected the “ring finger” of the left hand to the heart. The circular band or ring was a symbol of bounding one’s life-force, and in weddings meaning the pairing of man and wife together. In Ruane’s work, I personally took the rings to relate less to the ideas of matrimony and more to the theme of being bound by something less tangible. The rings where symbolic of the room within the subject was confined to.

Is this sense of imprisonment voluntary or not? Do the women leave the tranquil yet limited room for the open and treacherous world outside? Does the entrapment affect one’s sense of self, turning one into a faceless object? Are the vibrant flowers and glitzy jewelry trade-offs of the sense of freedom?

Ruane presents the questions and lets the viewer pose their own answers. I like that.

Room with a View
is on display through November 25.

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