RUTH DEALY: After the Shadow
Puerto Rico, 2016
The word “shadow” has layered meanings for Ruth Dealy. The artist’s stated aim is to paint directly from her eye to her hand, ‘without the shadow of editorial opinion falling in between’. Contrary to its traditional metaphorical association with light— with something that elucidates —in Dealy’s conception, reason obscures; it makes things murky.
Her work involves an act of negation: to preempt the emergence of judgment, with its attendant baggage of doubt and insecurity, and everything that one must unlearn to see the world for what it is. Negation here is an active process, a struggle to be waged so that the fragile drive of intuition may yield something like a sense of clarity.” Throughout her life, Dealy has vied desperately with a different kind of shadow.
As a child, she lost vision in her right eye from rheumatoid arthritis. Years later, she developed glaucoma in her other eye and was forced to face in slow motion the terrifying prospect of total blindness. The works from this year-long period of impending sightlessness resonate with undiluted fear. The self-portraits, in particular, evoke the point at which fear becomes something else, something grotesque, deformed; something animal. It is not exactly anger that they display. Their marks are the flagellations of someone drowning, gasping for air, clawing her way back to the surface.
The landscapes that Dealy created in that dark place evoke a different effect. They are more lyrical, their components fading in and out of view while establishing a kind of harmony. They vibrate, as if hovering between two worlds. The unseen presence who wanders lost through those melancholy woods seems captivated by their beauty, attempting to make peace, perhaps, with the possibility that it may soon be lost to her forever.
Many years and numerous surgeries later, Dealy continues to produce disarming images, and her work continues to evolve. What remains constant is the sense that she understands, surely better than most, that the psychological experience of seeing is inextricably intertwined with the body and its dynamic connection to the world — what the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty termed the ontology of the flesh.
Perception is carnal, and the body is of the world. And so, for each one of us, our view is not on the world, but rather in it. It may be true that it is the soul that sees, and not the eye, as René Descartes famously asserted. But even so, as Dealy’s work reminds us, it is only our embodiment within the world that keeps the shadows at bay.
René Morales, Curator, Pérez Art Museum Miami
Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Providence, RI
G-Tech, West Greenwich, RI
Mayor’s Office, City Hall, Providence, RI
Citizens Financial Group, Providence, RI
Edwards & Angell, Boston, MA
Chaika and Chaika, Providence, RI
Yesser, Glasson, and Dineen, Providence, RI
East Films, Providence, RI
Brown, Rudnick, Freed and Gesmer, Providence, RI
Providence Public Library, Providence, RI
Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, RI
The Westin Hotel, Providence, RI
Johnson and Wales, Providence, RI
Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, MI
Perez Art Museum Miami, Miami, Florida
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California
Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME
Rutgers University, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJ
Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, Providence, RI
Newport Art Museum, Newport, RI
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA
Rhode Island School of Design, M.F.A., Painting, 1971-1973
Rhode Island School of Design, B.F.A., Painting, 1967-1971
Haystack Mountain School of Arts and Crafts, Painting, July 1965, 1966
Grants and Awards
Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt Prize for Achievement in Figurative Realism, 2023
Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Fellowship Award, 2010
Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts, 2004
Fellowship in Painting, Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, 2003-2004
Fellowship in Painting, Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, 2000-2001
Individual Artist Achievement Award, Rhode Island Business Volunteers for the Arts, 2000
Regional Fellowship in Painting, New England Foundation for the Arts/National Endowment for the Arts, 1994-1996
Project Support Grant to create a series of secular altar pieces, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, 1990-1991
Fellowship in Two-Dimensional Art, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, 1987
Project Support Grant to create fine arts on outdoor advertising billboards, National Foundation on the Arts/Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, 1975
Project Support Grant to create public murals at New England Community Arts Festival, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, August, 1974
Part-time Faculty, Painting Department, Rhode Island School of Design, 1988-1997
Instructor, Continuing Education, Rhode Island School of Design, 1988-1994
Organizer and teacher, in painting and drawings, the Hartford-Perry Storefront School, a federally funded OEO project to establish an art school in the Hartford Avenue Housing Projects, Providence, RI, 1970-1973