I have strayed along largely unplanned, meandering tracks since my Yorkshire childhood, loving poetry, music and sport at school, but studying Botany and Zoology as an undergraduate. Tucking a PGCE into my pocket and teaching Biology for a few years to reluctant students caring for wayward mice and fruit flies in 6th form genetics, I then paused for.. well mainly for lack of direction.
A career in counselling and psychotherapy later became my focus, and I meandered on that path for nearly 30 years. Discovering mark making by serendipitous accident upon moving from London to Suffolk, I have, since 1997 explored this territory beginning in acrylic media, then oils. In 2011 I added watercolour to my interests and now work in several media.
My process remains one of following. Having first connected with the subject, whether that is a landscape, a colour or a memory, I then look at the space on the paper or canvas, and wait until I have an inclination to make a shape. The process continues with lots of waiting to see what I feel about the marks, until uncertainty about going too far provides a point to stop. At a later stage, adding or taking away, or leaving well alone brings the piece to completion.
In watercolour I may start with translucent pigments, leaving each layer to completely dry before deciding what next. Sometimes I drop other pigments onto still wet areas and watch what happens. I like using very heavy paper and don’t stretch and tape it down, enjoying moving it around and letting the pigment run over the surface so that I have less control.
Inspiration comes from forms in the landscape whether that is coastal Suffolk where I live, visits to Mull, or my old haunts of Ingleton Gorge, Snowdonia and North York Moors from undergraduate field-course days. I sketch and paint on site, en plein air, but use these compositions only as stimulations for studio worked pieces. Its the feel of a place I am responding to: its darkness or brightness, enclosed-ness or wide airy openness.
For Kunsthuis, I have enjoyed letting my memory unearth colours and places remembered from my childhood in the West Riding. It’s industrial landscape formed a backdrop for my bike excursions, and the metallic whiff of my dad’s overalls, and ringing tones of his clogs’ steel ‘shoes’ connect me to the working class identity which remains strong in me now. But smog coloured days, and soot blackened stone soon gave way, a few miles outside the city, to broad moorland and curlew cries. Heavenly spaces.
Ruth McCabe lives and works in Suffolk, UK.