Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ruth Armer: From the Representational to the Abstract

Ruth Armer
California Autumn
ca. n.d.
              oil on canvas        
30 1/8 in. x 38 1/8 in
SFMOMA
Ruth Armer was a painter, lithographer and teacher, whose work style ranged from her early, more representational work, to her later, more abstract art. Known today as one of San Francisco’s more profound abstractionists, many of her works feature desert scenes, giant sequoias, and her beloved city of San Francisco, among many additional California subjects. 
 
Ruth ArmerA New Dawn
ca. 1947
Oil on canvas
24 x 41 inches
 
#2
Ruth Armer
#2
ca. 1949
Oil on canvas

Ruth Armer was born in San Francisco on May 26, 1896, where she spent the majority of her career as an artist. Armer studied at the California School of Fine Arts from the years 1914-15 and 1918-19. In between, she studied at the Art Students League and School of Fine and Applied Art in New York, under noted artists/instructors George Bellows, Robert Henri, Kenneth Miller and Joan Sloan. During this time, her artistic career was greatly influenced by Leo Stein and Max Weber.
 
Armer became a painter of landscapes, musical themes, and figures in both oil and watercolor. During her career she worked as a commercial illustrator as well as a landscape and portrait artist.
After returning to California, she exhibited at Gumps San Francisco, the San Francisco Art Association and the San Francisco Women Artist Annuals, as well as galleries in New York, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Portland, and Honolulu. Armer taught drawing, painting, and design in addition to children's Saturday classes at the California School of Fine Arts from 1933-1940. She served for many years on their Board of Directors. 
 
Armer participated in two competitive exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and was invited twice to show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
 
 
Ruth Armer
#328,
ca. 1958
oil on canvas
41 7/8 in. x 28 in.
Collection SFMOMA, Anonymous gift;
 
Armer's work during the 1940s could be considered a visual diary, recording the phases of her life and her responses to historical events. Her paintings during the war years had a tendency to be dark, composed of ragged shapes that recall the later work of Clyfford Still. After 1945, Armer's palette brightened, reflecting the confidence of the postwar era.
 
From the early 1940s until the early 1970s, Armer was a trustee of the CSFA and remembered the school generously in her will. In her later years she created small, abstract paintings of "orbs and illusions of vast spaces that fragment into energized squiggles, leaf patterns, and paisleys." Harvey Jones of the Oakland Museum of Art felt that Armer's work represented  the "post-Surrealism" movement of the 30s and 40s, founded by artists Helen Lundeberg and husband Lorser Feitelson. Jones felt that her artwork during that time led to her abstract work of the 1950s.
 
 
 Ruth Armer
The Light Place
ca. n.d.
Acrylic on canvas
10.125 x 14.125 inches
 
Ruth Armer
 
Ruth Armer was an active, exhibiting artist until her death on August 29, 1977 in her beloved native city of San Francisco.
 
Solo Exhibitions:
Vickery, Atkins & Torrey, 1922
Cleveland Museum of Art
San Francisco Museum of Art, 1936, 1939
Quay Gallery, 1972, 1975

Public Collections:
Oakland Museum
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
 
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Sources
Calabri Gallery, http://calabigallery.com/artists/ruth-armer/, retrieved March 11, 2014.
SFMOMA On the Go, Works by Ruth Armer, http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artists/1055/artwork, retrieved, March 11, 2014.
AskArt: The Artist's Bluebook, Ruth Armer, http://www.askart.com/askart/a/ruth_armer/ruth_armer.aspx, retrieved, March 11, 2014.
Sylvia Moore, ed., Yesterday and Tomorrow, California Women Artists, Midmarch Arts Press, New York, 1989.
Patricia Trenton, ed. Independent Spirits, Women painters of the American West, 1890-1945, University of California Press, 1995.
Archives of American Art, Ruth Armer Papers, 1911-1976, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/ruth-armer-papers-8803