Ruth Cleland is originally from the Waikato and is currently based in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa New Zealand. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1998 and Master of Fine Arts (with distinction) in 2002 from the Dunedin School of Art, specialising in printmaking. Cleland has exhibited nationally and internationally in private galleries as well as public art institutions and has won several awards, including the Park Lane Wallace Trust Development Award (2008) and the NZ Painting and Printmaking Award (2003).
Ruth Cleland’s photorealist paintings and abstractions encourage us to slow down and notice details in our daily surroundings. Throughout her career Cleland has depicted her locale – from timber-clad Victorian-era Ōtepoti flats, to suburban streets and roundabouts in Kirikiriroa, to generic shopping malls and parking buildings in Tāmaki Makaurau. While each space is recognisable and familiar, Cleland bares few clues as to precisely where each scene derives. Instead, she takes the viewer through a series of intimate observations which have consumed her attention: the bright illumination of a fluorescent lamp on a polished terrazzo floor, the absorbent glow of daylight on an oil-drenched tarmac car park, and so on. The almost forensic fidelity with which she reproduces these fleeting interplays of light and materials probes the threshold between pictorial space and abstraction.
Cleland is interested in how such close observations of everyday scenes can locate a strangeness that is far from ordinary. Her recording of such details takes on an almost anthropological role, which reveals aspects of who we are and how we live in the world today. While her studio is far removed from these spaces, the art materials are an important feature of Cleland’s work. The physical characteristics in these scenes are not simply captured photographically but reconstructed through Cleland’s own ‘aggregates’ of acrylic and graphite. Likewise the grids, which feature prominently in Cleland’s work, both reveal her precise methods of producing the illusionistic spaces and function as abstractions unto themselves, allowing us to experience the slippage between illusory and actual planes in space.