where does this work come from?

    It happened that my sixth-grade teacher gave us an assignment to draw the steeples of St. Stanislaus Kostka church.  I had never before drawn something from life, only from my imagination.  I received a grade of C, but that didn’t bother me at all.  (My cousin got an A for his neat-as-a pin, coloring book-perfect work.)  The drawing satisfied me as never before – I felt as though I was seeing the world clearly for the first time.  The very act of drawing held promise for me.  I didn’t know it yet, but my muse had not just found me, she had me in her warm embrace.     
    In high school my talent made me feel “special” for the first time.  It brought me recognition from certain people, both peers and adults, and a chance to develop this talent under the guidance of two very supportive teachers.  I was chosen to create a painting that was displayed in a niche in the main hallway of the venerable Bay City Central High School for thirty years.  Social life in high school is cruel; I was ostracized by the self-appointed guardians of normality.  The charge was, unsurprisingly, “weirdness.”  Guilty or not, through art I saved myself.  Ironically, my talent also allowed me feel somehow “normal,” to make up for what I saw as my social deficiencies.  But I didn’t really need that much support because I was lucky to have a family that appreciated me and honored my gift.  
    There were no artists in my family, no role models, no trips to museums, but my parents and siblings gave me all the encouragement I needed.  My older sisters set the tone with “free expression night,” an event which took place on Wednesdays when my parents went grocery shopping.  Records were played – James Brown, Motown, girl groups, whatever – and we danced.  But there was a rule, one rule:  you were not allowed to laugh, at anyone, ever.  Dance lessons, no; instead, free expression night!
    After high school I continued studying art, first at the local community college then at Wayne State in Detroit.  The Motor City in 1974, angry, filthy, rampant with crime, decaying physically and socially, its reputation as the armpit of America richly deserved (read Them by Joyce Carol Oates), this foul place was where I found a teacher, Pat Quinlan, who believed that I had the gift.  She let me audit her class (I had no money for tuition), insisted that I come to class every day, gave me the personal attention that I needed.  It was here that I further developed my abilities in working with the human figure (always my passion), drawing from live models, good ones at last.  And it was here, in the hell called Detroit, that I visited my first real museum.  My solace from the ugliness outside its walls, the Detroit Institute of Arts introduced me to Pieter Bruegel, whose Wedding Dance on the third floor was my constant companion during my sojourn in the city.  And the stunning Mughal Dynasty miniature, A Bird, by Ustad Mansur; Diego Rivera’s series of frescoes, Detroit Industry;  Terborch’s A Lady; and Three Skulls by Cezanne.  My teacher gave me a skull to draw that summer.  I refused to live my life just for art, but in Detroit, art allowed me to live.
    I fled Detroit in November, following my sisters to Wisconsin where I spent quite a few good years.  There, I met the love of my life.  We got married in 1977 and went to New York City for our honeymoon.  At last I could see Picasso’s Guernica at the Museum of Modern Art and visit the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan.  It was my first time in the great city, and though New York was supposedly at its nadir, with Son of Sam shooting lovers in parked cars, Times Square an open-air vice den, teeming with streetwalkers, pimps, and con artists, all the while the tenements in the Bronx burning nightly, it was nevertheless exhilarating.  Our honeymoon suite at the old Rosoff’s Hotel on W. 43rd street cost $15 a night.  Everyone treated us like royalty – the hotel changed us to their best room when we mentioned that we were honeymooners.  We saw a jazz show at the famed Sweet Basil’s (with Chico Freeman and Cecil McBee, recorded live that night), then an Egyptian belly dance performance with a live band, and soaked up the free theater found at all hours on the streets of New York.   New York City, a place where art (and jazz!) really matter.  Truly, The City.
    In 1981 I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. in art.  By this time I had begun incorporating abstract elements into my work.  I created a fairly large painting on canvas using cattle markers purchased from a farm supply store on the outskirts of Madison.  It had washes of color and at the vortex of this energy field were some bold strokes that evoked a dancing figure.  I had broken from the strictly realistic mode and was now confident that I could find my way without the familiar guideposts of traditional life drawing and portraiture.
     We spent three years in Minneapolis and then went on to San Francisco where in 1988, I had my big breakthrough.  In the years leading up to that epiphanous moment, I had been working as a graphic artist.  I had seen a couple of fabulous shows of German expressionist art in the Midwest, as well as an exhibition of work in Los Angeles by the magnificent painter, Anselm Kiefer.  I had become friends with the poet and painter, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and was invited to  preside over his figure painting sessions at his studio, the “Atelier Lumiere” at the old shipyard in Hunter’s Point in San Francisco.  Suddenly, all my influences, all of my yearning, conscious, subconscious, everything came rushing out that day in a series of charcoal and pastel gesture painting/drawings,  the ones that I framed I dubbed “the fab four.”  (Yes, of course I loved the Beatles!)  Here was work that boldly expressed the figure but transcended the flesh by capturing the energy of the body as though in dance.  It was May 6, 1988.  I even titled the  series, Epiphany or Turning Point.  I was in ecstasy.  Gesture, intuition, a Zen quality – like a jazz solo, but captured with pigment on paper.
    We survived the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and the muse demanded an offering.  We live only two blocks from what was the Embarcadero Freeway.  This structure was condemned to demolition, for while it withstood the quake, its similarly designed twin in Oakland had collapsed killing scores of people.  I spent hours at the demolition site sketching the demise of this leviathan.  Aside from the drawings, I created a number paintings, the largest of which measured 23 by 8 feet.  All of this was exhibited at my solo show at the La Greca Gallery in North Beach, San Francisco in 1992.  From the ashes of this monstrous structure, built in the late 1950’s, has arisen the splendid waterfront district of San Francisco, most notably featuring the renovated Ferry Building with its renowned farmer’s market and artisan food shops, as well as the promenade along the old Embarcadero heading south along San Francisco Bay.
    By this time I was being visited by the spirit of Jackson Pollock.  had seen and been moved by his work in New York, San Francisco, and at the Albright-Knox art museum in Buffalo, New York, my husband’s hometown, where I had lived for a brief time back in the late 70’s.  The energy, the sensuousness, the originality all excited me.  Likewise, Gordon Onslow-Ford, whose stripped down methodology, which he described as “line-circle-dot,” seemed to serenely find his way to a similar place as the kinetic Pollock.  I heard Gordon Onslow-Ford speak at the San Francisco Art Institute at a lecture on the spiritual in art.  I was so moved that I contacted him and he invited my husband and me to spend an unforgettable day with him at his Bishop Pine Preserve in West Marin.  He took us around the property and we watched the fog roll in over the hills.  Then we visited his workshops and he showed us various works, some complete, some in progress, all utilizing the aforementioned “line-circle-dot” technique.  Both he and Jackson Pollock share a gestural quality that I appreciate.  
Their work is a portal to a larger world, like all great artists, transcending the limitations of materials and subject matter.
    During the 90’s I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel.  At last I visited Spain and saw the masterpieces of Goya, El Greco, and Velasquez in the Prado  and sought out Picasso’s trail in Malaga and Barcelona.  During my time in Jerusalem I became enchanted by the austere beauty of the hard, dry land.  The stone, whether finished blocks or the rubble strewn across the landscape, fascinated me with its composition and color.  I also found myself probing the depths of the Hebrew letters.  From these experiences, I began to explore 
fresh subject matter and new elements began to appear in my work.   Figurative motifs were defined as much by texture as by form.  
The desert became quite evident in my palette.  
    Most recently I have found myself drawn to the work of Philip Guston, after seeing his retrospective at San Francisco MOMA in 2003.  His pared down approach and rough, bold line inspired me to look again in my studio at some works in progress.  I like his concept of economy in  presenting the subject.  
    My influences are many, my inspiration unending.  No, I haven’t given my life to art, but art has marked my life at every turn.  In my own work, whether the human figure, birds, rocks, or religious iconography, I continue to seek ways to open that door, to pass through that portal to discover the sublime qualities of our world.  
Ruth Jaskiewicz Caprow

Somewhere along the way I began to draw.  I liked what I saw – what I felt.  I didn’t have to decide.  My muse called me.  Why would I refuse?

   So how did my muse find me?  She had to come to Bay City, Michigan where I was born and raised.  There, in the South End, among the modest homes of the dutiful, hard-working, mostly Polish American families is the parish church, St. Stanislaus Kostka, gothic in style, and like the medieval cathedrals in every Polish town, towering over the houses and the taverns and small shops on nearby Kosciusko Street.  At this place I met her.  An unlikely place?  Not really, for a cathedral (and St. Stan’s is that, somehow, in my own mind if not in fact) has always been at the center of the aesthetic universe of its community.  And so it is that this building expressed the lofty ideals of a very humble people in brick and mortar.

please note: this site is in transition.

– Ruth Caprow