‘Allium’, oil on canvas, 20 x 20, Ruth H. Smith, 2021.Ruthhelensmith.co.uk

Not many people find themselves in a crane with a set of paintbrushes and a canvas. Ruth Helen Smith is an artist who regularly found herself in such a position while being resident artist at Battersea Power Station. Ruth is a Devon-based artist with a unique outlook on painting and is interested in the relationship between art and the material world. In our interview we discussed the meaning of her art, why we should pursue it and the hidden significance of art within our society.

Ruth Helen Smith paintingRuthhelensmith.co.uk

While living in London, Ruth’s main focus was painting construction sites, where she fostered an insightful ability to see colours, beauty and the extraordinary where others see only the ordinary. After moving to Devon with her husband Noah, it is fascinating to see Ruth’s journey from inner city life to country life personified through her art. Although an artistic transition was never her explicit intention, it is interesting to see this shift in focus.

Ruth’s artistic journey started like so many with a hugely supportive art teacher who encouraged her to ‘play for the sake of playing’, an idea integral to the creative process. Ruth explains, “I’ve always been into drawing and painting”, and jokes, “I used to enjoy taking a long time colouring in at Sunday school.” Having several professional artists in the family certainly made an impact on Ruth, as art became a possible career option. “I used to stay in the art department pretty much every day after school. Late one evening, I remember my grandpa actually appeared in the art department saying ‘Ruth, the art teacher wants to go home — let’s go’. She was great! She never suggested that it was time to go and was so giving in that sense.”

“What I find interesting is that all these spaces that we create, we often take for granted the space without reflecting on their meaning”

“In terms of my artist hero, Van Gogh has to be up there. I’ve been painting a lot of still life at the moment and I’ve been reading a really compelling set of essays on still life called Looking at the Overlooked by Norman Bryson. Van Gogh doesn’t tidy up a vase of flowers to paint them, he paints it as it is with the slightly dying crinkled petals of sunflowers or all the individualities of the crabs. You can really tell that he is responding to everything’s uniqueness, and it still retains that familiarity and warmth. I really think Van Gogh is a hero.” Indeed, in many ways Ruth’s work borrows Van Gogh’s impressionist brushstroke-style whilst retaining her own deeply individual approach.

‘Breakers’, oil on canvas, 52 x 42cm, Ruth H. Smith, 2018.Ruthhelensmith.co.uk

“I find painting very meditative and leaving yourself behind and trying to get over that. It’s all about practising attentiveness. It’s about listening, looking and learning. I do see a painting as me trying to capture a moment and that’s significant I think.”

“She fostered an insightful ability to see colours, beauty and the extraordinary where others see only the ordinary”

Ruth explains the unrealised meaning behind the spaces within which we live. “When you see a construction site, you are really confronted by the raw elements, concrete and steel rebar, the plugging into the national grid etc. You see all those separate parts and when it’s finished, you’ll walk past and say that’s my mum’s house, or that’s where my friend lives. It’s about capturing that moment of creation before its wider meaning eclipses it. What I find interesting is that all these spaces that we create, we often take for granted the space without reflecting on their meaning. We don’t think about the people who made our buildings or the history behind them.”

Ruth Smith GalleryRuthhelensmith.co.uk


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Ruth continued, telling me about her fantastic in-house art space: Ruth Smith Gallery. “In our art residencies, we’ve had local artists and people from further afield using the gallery. It’s great to have so many artistic voices in the space because conversation is so important in art. However, concept is also really important to me and I have been helping exhibiting artists hone the vision behind their art.”

“Greater awareness of all our connections to the world and each other is so important”, says Ruth. “As a society, I feel like we’ve become quite disconnected from each other, the land and the rest of the world. In terms of change within the art world, I’d like the art world to be far more inclusive of both ideas and voices.” An artist often captures the meaning which society fails to capture itself. However, artists like Ruth reframe our thinking about how meaning is constructed and that is just one reason why I love her art.