Gifted young artists usually go to college to pursue their passions. Ruth Chase enrolled in the prestigious San Francisco Art Institute to find salvation.
“Before college I had been doing hard drugs and living on welfare,” recalls Chase. “But I had this idea that if I went to college, I could escape that life. College was like a form of drug rehabilitation.”
For Chase, a Venice, Calif., native now living in Tennessee, art school was certainly life changing. She went from being a challenged youth living on the wrong side of Lincoln Boulevard in Venice to being a widely respected, award-winning artist. Her solo exhibitions have been on display in galleries and museums across the country, and she has been the recipient of important art grants and residencies.
Attending college provided Chase with a refuge from drugs and crime. Just as importantly, she discovered her unique style. Many of her large paintings blur the line between realism and abstraction, resulting in images that seem to tap directly into Jungian archetypes. Her films and other multi-media works, meanwhile, often come across as engrossing documentaries.
Some of Chase’s most thought-provoking works are on display in September 2023 at MACC at the Streets in Hendersonville. Chase will be on hand at the Gallery from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7 for an Artist Talk. The exhibit, titled Passion Projects, features paintings and film from several of Chase’s award-winning conceptual art projects. These works, in Chase’s words, explore themes of the human spirit and belonging. All of her work imparts a strong sense of community.
That’s especially true of the paintings that comprise the series West of Lincoln. The title refers to Lincoln Boulevard, the thoroughfare that cuts through Chase’s hometown of Venice. A neighborhood of Los Angeles, Venice is probably best known for its iconic beachfront boardwalk. An assortment of bohemians, bodybuilders and various sketchy characters have long inhabited the place. In recent years, the neighborhood has also experienced widespread homelessness.
“Lincoln Boulevard was home to two kinds of people,” Chase says. “Poor people and less poor people.”
West of Lincoln Boulevard is where Chase grew up, and it’s where she focuses her project. The West of Lincoln Project is the culmination of work that Chase began in 2015. Her paintings depict Venice natives who have overcome hardship, adversity, drug addiction and violence. Many of her subjects provided written statements about their hard scrabble lives. These statements are displayed alongside the paintings.
Fernando Manzanilla, whose portrait is represented in the painting “Not Just Me Anymore,” notes in his statement that “Venice was a land of opportunity if you wanted to find trouble.” Manzanilla was apparently no stranger to trouble and addiction until he had his two beautiful children, whose faces are included in the painting.
Similarly, one suspects that Venice resident Eddie Hadvina was no Boy Scout, despite the fact that he is portrayed as an 11-year-old in a scout uniform in the painting “Second Chance.” Hadvina remembers a city filled with hunger, poverty and broken families. But he also remembers the pure joy of riding his skateboard, which is proudly displayed in the painting.
“West of Lincoln,” the title painting in the series, reminds one of a celebratory wall mural. The only apparent danger in this painting is a message warning about “Heavy Local Vibes.” The citizens of Venice clearly gleaned a lot from their surroundings. “These are all people who have overcome difficulty and emerged with a lot of street-smarts,” says Chase.
For the most part, the paintings in West of Lincoln reflected the views and stylistic preferences of the subjects. They told Chase how they wanted to be portrayed. In the series Blur, Chase follows her own muse. In these large paintings, Chase explores the question of what it means to be a woman. There appear to be no absolutes in this quest. Masculinity and femininity occupy various places on a spectrum.
Chase’s idiosyncratic style is fully evident in the painting “With, Without,” which explores ideas of how the masculine perceives the feminine. The painting shows a male figure with a transparent head. Superimposed above his shoulders are images of women carrying children. Chase uses dripping painting and blurring lines in this painting to suggest memory and nostalgia. Some of the women wear colorful dresses, suggesting strong emotion. Yet there is considerable gray in this memory of women, implying a sort of ambivalence.
Passion Projects at MACC at the Streets also includes the terrific short film Belonging. Filmed on the western slope of Sierra Nevada, the film is a conversation about our relationship with the land. Chase interviews earth educators, environmentalists, ranchers and others who have come to see the soil as a community to which everyone can belong.
Passion Projects: SEPT. 1-30, 2023
MACC at the Streets
300 Indian Lake Blvd., A140
Hendersonville, TN 37075
5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
September 7, 2023