Author: Dianne Bennett
If you’ve never looked closely at cell towers or the backs of highway signs, you have a great opportunity to re-imagine them at the current show of Nicholas H. Ruth prints, “New and Improved,” at Mirabo Press in Buffalo.
Ruth, who considers himself in a painterly tradition, has a forceful philosophy behind his art. “The underlying premise that I think I’m trying to get at,” he said while talking at the recent opening of his exhibition, “that I apologetically get at through picture-making, is that our human capacity for technological advancement far outpaces our capacity for ethical advancement and meaningful communication. I look around and say we have these f*** ing things [e.g. cell towers] – do you think you are any better at talking to your family than before those existed?”
The current show is Mirabo’s first in-person exhibit since Covid hit with full force. Located near Elmwood and Hertel (see specific information on gallery hours and location below), Mirabo Press is “one of the most exciting things to see in Buffalo, now that there is a nice little renaissance underway,” Queenseye wrote in BRO in 2018. “It’s unlike anything I’d ever come across.” Founded by three artists, Mizin Shin, Rachel Shelton and Bob Fleming (take the first 2 letters of their first names and you’ll get “Mirabo”), the studios at Mirabo host two of the largest presses in the area as well as a variety of other print-making equipment. The depth of technology and artistry allows guest artists to experiment with new techniques.
Ruth explained how Mirabo allowed him to attempt more complex works. Pointing to the “cell tower” prints (if I can call them that), he said, “some of these things are incredibly technically challenging; if you look at the four of these and the way the horizon lines meet the sky and then at the bottom, there’s a gradient there – that’s insane.”
The current show also features some of the underlying tools, including a large copper plate of one of the “cell tower” works.
Ruth intriguingly marries the “habitual, almost second-nature intake of our surroundings” (to quote the curator card in the exhibit) “and the ingrained symbolism smattering these objects in our purview.” The artist, who teaches at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva (and lives in Rochester, so he knows those road signs and cell towers), commented at the opening, “In terms of specifically anything that’s photographic, the goal there is to screw up the photographic quality of it enough that it doesn’t seem simply documentary. Photography has such ‘truth value’ in our culture that I feel it is important to somehow make photography a little strange in order to use it to communicate visually about ideas.” Examples are those photos of highway signs, from the back. They are some of the first works one sees on entering the show, and they are haunting. As Ruth explained, they are much more complex than simply photographs.
The artist also credits printmaking with allowing him to do more with color. “With printmaking you can just make a shape, and one move, one color, and there’s a shape—no brush marks. It’s not a linear operation of filling something in… as a kid, you fill something in. How else as a painter are you going to make the whole thing? It’s one mark at a time, and I was struggling with that because I didn’t like the way my own mark looked – I had to find ways to put fields of color down.” He evolved into printmaking, and, as he said, “then all of a sudden [waving his arm around the room], it was this possibility and this possibility and this possibility.”
You can see all this for yourself—and more—between now and November 6, when the show closes. Gallery hours are Thursday – Saturday, 1-5 p.m. by appointment. Click “book a visit” on the web site: www.mirabopress.com. Don’t fail to take a tour of the print-making shop at the same time and get on the mailing list for future shows and workshops.
Ruth’s website is here.
On view through Saturday, November 6, 2021
Mirabo Press: 11 Botsford Place, Buffalo, NY 14216
Gallery Hours: Thursdays – Saturdays, 1-5 p.m. by appointment
Book a viewing appointment at www.mirabopress.com
*Mask and proof of vaccination are required.