RUTH MARTEN

“In addition to prolific stints as an illustrator and tattoo artist, native New Yorker Ruth Marten has been exhibiting her art in galleries for decades. For her latest body of work Marten’s embellished recombinants of 17th and 18th century engravings seamlessly weave radical alterations, subtle visual humour and ecstatic fantasy into delirious social landscapes.” 
- - Paper Magazine, New York

“Erotic effervesence.” 
- - Dominique Nahas


Ruth Marten's drawings occupy and enact upon the historical spaces of vintage prints by detourning them with the precision of the tattoo artist. Delicate, controlled and highly illusionistic, they utilise the trope of the visual malaprop to create an imaginary third space in which surreal and subversive narratives are entwined. Central to Marten's work is the idea that the visual classificatory systems and conventions of natural history and encyclopaedic illustrations are inherently partial and unstable, and she exploits this knowledge to create a surreal and subversive world in which hip-hop Phoenicians can co-exist with hirsute Counts. 

In Marten's indelible vision, tables are tapped by snakes, picnic baskets and bizarre forms of horticulture, whilst a priapic primate supports a giant wig on the back of a marmoset. Her drawings map these fantastical spaces with a technical subtlety that makes them appear quasi-scientific: like rogue illustrations from a Raymond Roussel novel, or key evidence in a pataphysical court of enquiry. In fusing the historical aspects of her chosen prints with contemporary concerns, Marten's work speak to us across time and, in doing so, it take the weights, measures and protocols of the taxonomic process to forge a magical world that is distinctly her own. 

"Born and living in N.Y., Ruth Marten has worn several hats, in spite of the hair. From 1972 to 1980 she was an important figure in the tattoo underground and, as one of the few women practicing the craft, influenced people's ideas about body decoration. Working during the disco and punk era, she also tattooed in the Musée D'Art Moderne de La Ville de Paris during the 10th Biennale de Paris in 1977. 

Hired by Jean-Paul Goude for her first illustration (and for 30 years after) she illustrated books, albums and magazines and is most associated with the "Year in Provence" books of Peter Mayle, art-directed for A.A.Knopf by Carol Devine Carson. That love of the printed image informs her newest interest: changing, through over-drawing and collage, the configuration and content of 18th century engravings. 

Her book Histoire un-Naturelle (see below), published for her 2007 London exhibit at Isis Gallery, is a catalogue of the work that came on the heels of a 17 year obsession with hair. Her drawing, painting and sculpture has been exhibited at the Aldrich Museum (Pop Surrealism, 1998), the Tang Museum (Hair, Untangling a Social History, 2004), the Halsey Institute (Hair on Fire, 2009) and is represented in many collections -- most recently in the de Young Museum in San Francisco."