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Speech given by Michael Kempson at the opening of an exhibition of paper-work by Ruth Faerber at Burnie Regional Art Gallery, 26 April 2009.
Ruth Faerber – An appreciation
Ever since I arrived in Sydney in the early 80s and was introduced to the world of printed art you couldn’t help but notice Ruth Faerber’s intelligent, rigorous and diverse creative practice. At that stage she was in her third or fourth reinvention of herself as an artist and it was a pivotal period in her development, she had just begun her experiments with hand-made paper. This new project began with the idea of making a distinctive paper matrix for her conventional prints but blossomed into much of the work that you see today.
Her curious and idealistic nature was nurtured with the encouragement of an early teacher, the immigrant modernist Desiderious Orban and then with further training at East Sydney Tech and later at the Pratt Centre in New York in the mid 60s. It is this life-long openness to and a fearless embrace of change that has resulted in Ruth having such an enviable reputation in Sydney print circles. So much so that I have come to delight in the formal meetings of a group called Sydney Printmakers in which we share membership, where Ruth’s forthright challenging of stale thinking and her gentle non-conformism is one of the real highlights.
Excavations, Fragments and Inscription is a selection of works gifted by Ruth to this gallery, featuring many of her cast paper objects made between 1982 and 1998. I quote Ruth, “I also discovered, within the process, the use of handmade paper as a creative medium in its own right, with surface texture and lightweight sculptural forms providing a unique potential for manifesting my ideas ... images of weathered surfaces and ancient relics that evoke a sense of timelessness, that act as a metaphor for the endurance of the human spirit — austere as our shared generic memories which bind humankind in a common identity."
Now while I’ve just been banging on about Ruth being a champion of the avant-garde these artworks suggest a certain deference for history in the guise of objects that could be unearthed through the tradition bound procedures of the archeological method. This seeming contradiction between making images resonant with age and her passionate engagement with the new is quite right and fitting for Ruth as she is no mono-dimensional artist. Through her imagination she opens a new world to us, simultaneously designed to comfort and to challenge. Her life’s artistic practice has been spent in pursuit of a form of creative honesty existing in parallel with her daily reality as a wife and mother. In all of these beautiful images she balances a universal evocation of loss with a more personal desire for a hopeful future, expressed using a visual vocabulary that reinforce the values she cherishes. Fundamental among them is her love and devotion to family and an unswerving commitment to shared social responsibility.
Today after seven decades of hard work she has cleared out her studio and given much needed printmaking infrastructure to a younger generation. This is not as a consequence of her being 86 years young but because she has a new challenge, a commitment to explore the potential of digital methods with the same rigour and invention brought to previous work.
While I may have committed the ultimate sin by telling you all how old she is I hope it isn’t impolite of me to point out that Ruth Faerber is a person of diminutive stature. But when you consider her contribution as an artist, writer and critic and the excellence she has fostered in printmedia practice in this country, you would have to agree that she casts a very long shadow.