Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you!
Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating?
Ruthie Vergin: I think it's pretty normal for people make stuff as kids. Then life goes the way it does, and most of us get blocked from our creative endeavors by one hindrance or another. A few of us make it back to creative work, and that’s good both for us as individuals, and for the larger culture. I had a lot of perfectionism and fear that prevented me from applying myself, so I relied on the extra pressure of class assignments to push me past my fears. Then once I started on an artwork I didn't want to stop. I studied film photography in high school, and developed hundreds of photographs, so many I was nearly living in the dark room. Then in college I studied pottery, and dove in with the same obsessive enthusiasm. I ended up following my pottery to Japan and studying traditional Bizen pottery there, returning to the states to broaden my education with more classes. I was a hungry learner. At WWU I took whatever class the best teachers were teaching, and the painting teachers were brilliant, so pottery was set aside and I earned a degree in painting. I was having shows while in college, and I've continued on that path, taking a variety of jobs to help pay the expenses. I was an architectural color consultant for a while, and that developed my painting skills, and then I started teaching, which is a powerful creative exercise, always introducing new challenges that continue to strengthen and develop my creative muscles.
Do you work with other mediums?
I now have more hours of experience in oil paint than I have with other mediums, and I am ready with all the tools and materials to do work I enjoy, so up until summer 2016 I tended to work with oils the most, but I'm not settled on them. I'll happily go back to pottery, or pick up my ink and watercolors again, or make prints, or something else. The medium changes the process, and I'm interested in a lot of different visual languages. The hard part isn't changing, the hart part is staying with one material long enough to be able to use it effectively.
In July 2016 I announced the launch of my new art school, the Seattle Artist League. The school has been growing into everything I've wanted - a place I love to be, and a community I'm proud to be a part of. A facility for constant support and learning. But like any large endeavor, it has taken a considerable amount of my time and attention in its first year. I didn't paint for a while, but thanks to the regular classes at the League, I have kept up my figure studies, and the threads of my thoughts. I haven't had a lot of time and energy to put into life size oil paintings, so recently my artworks have been drawings on paper. Graphite, charcoal, pastel, colored pencil, and watercolor. Artworks that I can pull out and do quickly. These simple materials that aren't as large and messy and physically demanding as paint.
Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
I tend to have a long open process, where I notice what bubbles up for me. Without picking up a paint brush, I notice colors, or a mood, or something I'm thinking about. I notice ideas that come up, and which ideas repeat themselves in iterations. I start to let imagery emerge. This process could last 6 months to a year or so. When I have an intuitive sense of direction, I'll look for models that help me explore that further. In 2016 for Neither Will This Stay, I worked with butoh dancer Kaoru Okumura. In the paintings were life sized figures layered and turning, appearing and disappearing into and out of emptiness. For Subspace in the year prior I worked with people who helped me talk about intimacy, sexuality, vulnerability, and intensity. When I work with people like that I like to schedule a few hours with them, and over the course of a few sessions, I'll take several thousand photographs. I comb through those to find images that match my intention, and then print them on transparency and layer the images. Working on the computer is counter productive to my painting, so I print the images and spread them out on a table. Holding them in my hand and flipping them upside down and backwards, moving them around with each other, I'll start to find compositions that feel right. Then I'll put that onto a projector, and shine the image onto a wall, backing up the projector until it feels like the right size. At this point I'll have the color palette (a combination of my earlier thoughts and the model), the composition, and the dimensions of the piece. It seems I'm nearly done at this point but there's still a lot of work still to do to resolve it as a painting. I do tend to paint pretty fast once all that prep work is done though, so the last couple of months before a show is when most of the work emerges.
Tell us about where your inspiration for your art come from?
I use artwork as a way to connect with people. One of the most enjoyable projects I did was 100 portraits, by which I was able to sit and spend time with people, getting to know them through their faces, and applying pieces of their personality to my marks. When I'm working on my own project, I find the most enjoyment from collaborating with people who express an aspect of something that I'm thinking or feeling. Lately I haven't had as much of a "message" as I've just wanted to draw the figure in new ways, so models have been wonderful.
Do you have a specific “beat” you like best – nature, food, profiles etc?
I read a lot about science, philosophy, and psychiatric ideas that pertain to how we work, and how we see.
Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
I have a painting I can't sell, it's a portrait of my friend Mary Froderberg, titled The Listener. Mary has been a very sweet friend, and the painting captures her as a friend. When I look at it I see a combination of the two of us, I see our friendship, and I love it dearly.
What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
Teaching! I'm constantly thinking about how artworks are made, and growing appreciation for how different people solve similar challenges. I've learned more about painting in the last few years of teaching than I did in my entire life prior.
If we want to see more of your work where should we go to find?
I send out a daily-ish art newsletter called "V. Notes." V. Notes are daily–ish thoughts and ideas related to art. People can subscribe on the Seattle Artist League website. For paintings, I posted my last few shows on my website, and for more day-to-day artworks, I post images to facebook.
What is next for you? Anything you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about?
I'm excited about the League. It's the sort of art school I would have wanted to go to years ago, and still spend time in today.
Lastly, how do you take your coffee? We ask everyone!
Lots and lots of cream.