Dutch artist Ruth van Beek lives and works in her 18th century wooden cottage in Koog aan de Zaan, a small industrial town north of Amsterdam. Here, Ruth creates surreal collages from found photographs and painted cardboard: “Old photography books and photo albums are my tools and content. I rearrange and manipulate the images to reveal the different universes that lie within them.” Her days are filled with folding, cutting, sticking and painting these strange, lifelike compositions.
Ruth’s uncanny work is deceptive as inanimate structures morph and transform into animated figures. “I think my work makes the viewer uncomfortable because I turn objects into characters and abstract shapes into living beings,” Ruth tells It’s Nice That. Her creations are a mix of brightly coloured sculptural collages made out of living flowers and shy figures made solely from recycled images of hair. Ruth blurs the distinction between familiar images and unidentifiable contexts. We may all know what hair looks like, but removed from its context, the photograph takes on a new meaning. In this way, Ruth’s work demands attention and forces the viewer to consider mundane, everyday objects in a new light.
“I go to nearby second hand shops every week and find books I like. I then cut out all the interesting images, separate them from their context, and store them in my archive,” Ruth explains. Her compositions are made from recycled content and combine images from a range of time periods and cultures, bringing elements of the past to life. For the artist, colour is a vital part of the creative process as colours can attach emotions and feelings to abstract creations. “Every so often I dedicate a day to painting big pieces of paper and cardboard with colour and when the paper is dry I cut out shapes, turning the paintings into objects I can use,” Ruth says. She goes on to explain that she has made a group of sculptural collages using pink, fleshy colours in order to make them look like human bodies.
Ruth compares her collages to a theatrical production: the base colour is the “stage” and the found photographs are the “actors” who perform their roles and bring her imaginary plays to life. “I do not have a message to convey, it is not my intention to change the world or make political statements. But my work does react to the goings-on of daily life. News, fairytales and theatre are all mixed together,” she reveals. It is this fusion of the literal and the abstract, the animate and the inanimate, the real and the theatrical that inspires Ruth’s artistic imagination.