"My paintings and videos are rooted in such pivotal memories from childhood that represent significant psychological moments, set in a culture of racial divide."
R U T H O W E N S | | | biography
[lives & works - New Orleans, LA ::: b.1959, Augsburg, Germany]
RUTH OWENS was born in 1959 to a young German woman and a Black serviceman from Georgia. The nomadic military lifestyle of her childhood was complicated by restrictions to mixed families in many communities and laid the basis for the formation of her cultural identity and therefore, her artistic practice.
Owens graduated in 2018 with an MFA from the University of New Orleans after leaving her medical practice of 25 years. She is represented by the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, and belongs to the artist collective, “The Front,” both in New Orleans. Owens’ work is concerned with contributing to and preserving the black archive, and she uses personal super-8 film references in her painting and video art. Artist residencies include the Joan Mitchell Center, the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Vermont Studio Center, the Studios at MASS MoCA, and the International Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn. Her work is in the permanent collections of the 21c Museums, Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill, Addison Gallery of American Art, Dale Center for the Study of War and Society, Fidelity Investments Corporate Collection, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Her videos were featured in the New Orleans Film Festival and the Patois Film Festival in New Orleans.
In the sixties, my father was stationed at a military base in the deep South for several years. Although it was prescribed by law, our mixed race family was perfectly happy to live in an exclusively African-American section of town. Our more respectable African-American neighbors refused to associate with us and we had very few friends, most of whom were marginalized by joblessness and alcoholism. A child of one of these families became a shadowy constant in our home. She had the typical facial features of fetal alcohol syndrome and we cared for her when her own mother was unable to do so. This girl’s struggles with alcoholic family problems echoed my own. We shared feelings of insecurity brought on by the alcoholism of her mother and my father.
My paintings and videos are rooted in such pivotal memories from childhood that represent significant psychological moments, set in a culture of racial divide. My family’s personal narrative includes issues like alcoholism which can plague any race or culture. However, as a mixed-race person, cultural power differentials based on race or skin tone (colorism) affect me on a daily basis and must also be considered when telling my story.
My communicative tools lie in an expressive and organic method of painting. The surfaces are scratched, left bare, glopped on, and dripped on for a mood consistent with the emotive content of the image. The surface not only becomes a metaphor for the vulnerability of our physical bodies, but it further represents an attempt to manifest the concept of a fluid racial identity.
My parents filmed events in my childhood with a Super 8 camera. This footage proves to be a valuable resource in mining my psychological past, and clips from these films serve as reference images for my paintings. To heighten the emotional and visual impact of these images, I use of collage, color alterations, compositional changes, and abstraction.
Clips from the Super 8 footage are also used in my video work, along with contemporary clips of my children. Mixing up footage of my children with clips of my childhood causes distortion and confusion of time, and speaks to the idea that past traumas are recorded in genetic memory. The videos inform any exhibition of my oil or casein paintings, and reinforce the feeling of getting an intimate view of a mixed-race family’s personal story through a cultural lens.
2018 Master of Fine Arts, Painting, University of New Orleans
1986 MD, Northwestern Medical School
1981 BA, Carleton College, Northfield MN
2021 Be Kind to Yourself, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans, LA
2020 Black Outdoors, Southeastern Louisiana University Contemporary Art Gallery, Hammond, LA
2019 Good Family, The Front Gallery, New Orleans, LA
2018 Identity Theft, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans, LA
Baby Love, University of New Orleans Gallery, St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans, LA
2017 Conspiracies, Barrister’s Gallery, St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans, LA
2016 Steppin’ Out, Xavier University Chapel Gallery, New Orleans, LA
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2021 “Art After 1950,” Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“Art in Embassies,” Embassy of the United States of America, Kampala, Uganda
2020 Suffrage 100, Sue and Eugene Mercy Gallery, Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, CT
Expanding the Narrative, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Forever is Composed of Nows, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2019 Louisiana Contemporary, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Film Festival, New Orleans, LA
Welcome to the Afrofuture: Ground Zero, New Orleans African American Museum, New Orleans, LA
Active Directions of the Mind, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
The Wizard, Monte Vista Projects, Los Angeles, CA
Art on Paper, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New York, NY
True Blue, UNO St. Claude Gallery, New Orleans, LA
2018 You Want a Piece of Me, collaboration with Carlos Rolón and members of The Front Artist
Collective, in conjunction with Rolón’s show Outside/In, NOMA, New Orleans, LA
Currents, 2018, curated by Barbara Zucker, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Honey Trap, The Front Gallery, New Orleans, LA
2017 Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series, LeMieux Galleries, New Orleans, LA
Text and Image, Site: Brooklyn Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Parse: Southeast Louisiana Juried Student Exhibition, Second Story Gallery, The Healing
Center, New Orleans, LA
2016 La Femme, curated by Don Marshall, New Orleans Art Center, New Orleans, LA
Presences, University of New Orleans Masters of Fine Arts Show, UNO St. Claude Gallery,
New Orleans, LA
2016 NUDE, 8th Annual NUDE exhibition, Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, OH
2015 LA Contemporary, 2015, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA
panel participant with curator Brooke Davis Anderson
2014 Imago Mundi: New Orleans Repatriation, Prospect.3 New Orleans, New Orleans Museum
of Art, New Orleans, LA
True Colors, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, New Orleans, LA
Dual Identity, Reynolds Ryan Art Gallery, New Orleans, LA
megalomania two, Boyd Satellite Gallery, New Orleans, LA
2012 NOLA NOW: The Human Figure, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA
2022 Mass MoCA
2020 Joan Mitchell Center, Artist-in-Residence
2019 Addison Gallery of American Art, Artist-in-Residence Program
2018 The Vermont Studio Center
The Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill
Ralph and Susan Brennan
Dale Center for the Study of War and Society
Thomas and Dathel Coleman
Beth Rudin DeWoody
John and Dathel Georges
Jeffrey and Walton Goldring