November 16, 2018

Ruth Weisberg exhibition captures timeless emotions

The fruits of Ruth Weisberg’s artistic career can’t fit in one room, but a new exhibition, “Ruth Weisberg: Reflections Through Time,” sure is doing its best.

The exhibition at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts runs through the end of August and includes works that reference topics ranging from the Holocaust to the Bible to Peter Pan, a fitting introduction to the celebrated artist. 

“Everything we do as artists, if we’re good, is expressed visually,” Weisberg said recently, sitting in the gallery surrounded by her work. “This,” she said, motioning to the exhibition around her, “really gives a lot of information. The references I make use of, particularly in art history, are on the wall. … I think it’s a wonderful introduction to my work.”

A working artist since the 1960s, Weisberg has had a career producing some truly massive results, including a 94-foot-long drawing retelling Jewish history from a feminist perspective that once was displayed at the Skirball Cultural Center, which was something of a biblical undertaking. 

On view at Jack Rutberg’s gallery are a number of Weisberg’s works on paper that display her fondness for art history.

“In the 20th century, starting with Picasso … there was a very ironic look at the past. They really tried to devalue our history, and that bothered me immensely,” Weisberg said. “I feel an intense connection to art history.

“I’m in conversation with artists I admire, so certainly it’s partly homage, but I also bring my own experience and references,” Weisberg continued. “It’s a real conversation, and I feel like this amazing thing happens where the distance between 16th-century Florence and the present disappears.”

Although Weisberg has great admiration for history’s great artists, she is strongly connected to today’s world. Whether she’s drawing her son, the musician known as Daedelus, or bringing to life a vision of her childhood summers in the Indiana sand dunes in “Neverland,” Weisberg’s work is deeply personal and grounded, even when her figures are floating in midair, as they often do.

“I’m in the present, too, but I like that sense of time travel,” she said. “I have found in Judaism a real analogous activity, which is text study. Here you are, you’re arguing with Rashi. The brilliant gift of Jewish study is that you’re in real intimate contact with Jewish thought … and that’s very much what I’m doing with art history.” 

Rutberg, who has represented Weisberg since the early ’80s, is a fan of Weisberg’s historical flourishes. “I’ve known Ruth since the mid-’70s and admired her as an artist,” he said.

He recalled one of the first times he met Weisberg, at a sparsely attended Los Angeles County of Modern Art talk in the ’70s given by a scholar of Edvard Munch. He noticed a strange sight across the room. “Here was this young woman with a nursing blanket, with her child at her breast, and she wasn’t going to miss this lecture,” Rutberg recalled. The woman was Weisberg.

“I’m always interested in unique and independent visions, and Ruth has a particular sensibility that’s really … it’s this evocation of memory. And I don’t mean in a nostalgic sort of way,” Rutberg said. “There’s something very empathetic about it because it’s a journey. There are some things that are so fixed that they have no further possibility. In Ruth’s work, there is this almost longing — they’re not resolved, in a sense.” 

Some of Weisberg’s works are literally not resolved. She’s currently finishing a second stained glass window for Our Savior Church at USC. Weisberg, the former dean of USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts, was commissioned to do the work despite being Jewish, a product of her long association with the Catholic art community in L.A.

“I have such respect for the history of Catholic art in their churches and cathedrals, it should be an inspiration to all other religions, including Judaism,” Weisberg said.

“Because of the structure, it was going to be the first three days of Creation,” Weisberg said of her first window, which is divided into three sections. “Seven days was not really going to fit, nor fit the structure.”

Weisberg ran into a problem, however: “God does not create the sun or the moon until the fourth day. That’s quite inconvenient, because I wanted the sun and the moon to be in the first section … let there be light … so I did put it in, so it’s the first four days of Creation,” she said, laughing.

The second window will depict the visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Originally the church had wanted something related to the end of days, but Weisberg had to politely tell them that Jews didn’t really believe in Revelation. 

“I’m working on the second window at Judson Glass Studios, which is the most esteemed stained glass studio in the Western United States,” Weisberg said. “They’re just terrific. It’s been in the same family for five generations and the founder was the dean of fine arts at USC.”

When she’s not working on the window, Weisberg has been enjoying a relative year off after being a dean at USC for so long. “I had my ideal year, which was three months in New York, working mostly on prints … then I spent two months in Israel at the Artists’ House in Herzliya … and then three months in Rome,” she said. “That’s the best year I can imagine.”

Rutberg is happy to have Weisberg back in L.A. though. “Ruth is hugely aware of the art world around her, and one of the things that really marks Ruth Weisberg is her constancy,” he said. “There’s an awe for her place in this continuum we’re all a part of, through the highs and the devastating lows.”

 

Ruth Weisberg: Reflections Through Time” runs through Aug. 30 at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts. For more information, visit this article at jewishjournal.com.