“Roses in January?”

“Ponto Sombra/Connecting Threads” 2019 was Ruth’s previous exhibition at the Recordatorio Rainha Santa Isabel/AfredoBastos Coimbra, Portugal. Almost as an afterthought to the main exhibits, blue and white paper rose constructions were placed around the bases of the statues of Rainha Santa Isabel connecting the museum with the works on display.

The Miracle of the Roses The Miracle of the Roses. According to legend, Queen Isabel left the castle in winter to distribute bread concealed in her cloak to the poor. Challenged by the king (who did not approve of her charitable work) Isabel exclaimed she was carrying only roses. Suspicious, the king exclaimed, “Roses? In January?” Upon opening her cloak roses were revealed.

Playing with words and phrases relating to disguise and subterfuge, cloaked in the security of darkness was a phrase that connected those secretive night-time journeys of Rainha Santa Isabel with a more universal narrative about covering up the body to disguise someone or something from another person, or from public view.

For Ruth, research into the role and meaning of the hooded cloak, as a blanket of secrecy, connects with her ongoing interest in the concepts of protection, intrigue and concealment. Also seen as a symbol of humility where the wearer can choose to disguise class differences between the higher and lower echelons in society, Materials, techniques and working methods are once again used as metaphors for ideas and concepts, engaging the viewer on many different sensory levels. Thus the direction of the new works for “Roses in January” fell into place.

Lifesize patterns derived from gloves, cloaks and hooded shapes, the latter inspired by the traditional capes and oversized hoods from the Azores, were cut out in multiples using various papers and surfaces; some transparent, others opaque. A forest of disconnected forms blending in and out of their surroundings, journeying though a night-time landscape connecting to the legend of the roses in the form of dreamlike and shadowy rose patterns, overlaid or hidden from sight. In the same way as the surrounding hills in Central Portugal can be cloaked in an ever changing shadowy mists where the quality of the light changes the focus on what is seen and unseen.

Distorted, mutant, rose-like constructions which form part of the exhibits are created in unreal and modified colours, adding a further sense of unreality to the work. A pure blue rose does not exist in nature. “Roses in January” also asks the viewer to question the environmental issues and impacts of the cut flower industry, when out of season roses are cultivated en mass for the commercial market; for example St Valentines day gifts.

The lyrics to the country rock standard The Long Black Veil were another source of inspiration in particular the final line of the song. “Here the story is told from the point of view of a man falsely accused of murder and executed. He refuses to provide an alibi since on the night of the murder he was having an affair with his best friend’s wife, and would rather die and take their secret to his grave than admit the truth. The chorus describes the woman’s mourning visits to his grave site, wearing a long black veil and enduring a wailing wind” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Black_Veil )

Ruth Lee January 2020

Measuring 195 cm x 58 cm the work is constructed from handmade silk papers, hand printed from laser cut wood print blocks with hand stitching and wrapping, cutting, heat treatment, layering and surface manipulation.