It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.
Would we be collecting works by Ruth Comfort… paying large sums for them?
I met Ruth Comfort briefly back in the late 70s, introduced by Karen Bell (still a friend) and her husband Jim Mackie (long time gone). Jim was a colleague; a commercial artist and a skilled, knowledgeable, talented illustrator. His work was stylish, clever and readily saleable… light years away from Ruth’s art. And yet, Jim was drawn to her work, buying some pieces that Karen still has.
Karen shared this rather nice example when I asked about Ruth.
What did Jim see? And why am I remembering Ruth Comfort’s work more than 3 decades after I first saw it?
Ruth’s pictures are are convincingly child-like. It’s hard to fake children’s work if you are an adult. Trained artists try it for things like daycare centre signs. It never looks like a child’s work. It’s not supposed to, either. Adults faking children’s art take one of two approaches. If professional, they interpret children’s wonky tilts and scribbly lines into something representing child art. Amateur adults try to mimic child art by drawing badly, thinking that will do the trick. It doesn’t of course.
Time for another Picasso quote:
What might be taken for a precocious genius is the genius of childhood. When the child grows up, it disappears without a trace. It may happen that this boy will become a real painter some day, or even a great painter. But then he will have to begin everything again, from zero.
Ruth Comfort somehow seemed to have hung onto that precocious genius of childhood. In her case, it didn’t “disappear without a trace” and for this reason, her work is remarkable and memorable. I wonder how she did it (if it was deliberate) or how it happened, if it just happened. Maybe if Ruth is out there somewhere, she’ll write and tell me.
Some of her artlessness is surely calculated. If you set out to reach Picasso’s goal and paint like a child, what medium would you choose? Paint, as Picasso suggests? No… crayon, as Ruth has done. Furthermore, Karen tells me that she and Ruth were in art school at the same time. Art school!
So Ruth was exposed to the artifice of art and still managed to channel her inner child onto paper and board. I find it unique, fascinating and even mysterious.
Ruth’s portrait of me is still in our collection, along with a little Christmas card drawing she made.