Artist and printmaker Ruth McDonald rejoices in the hallowed English tradition of the depiction of our natural surroundings. She works in a wide variety of media including oils, watercolours, graphite and gesso panels, as well as etched screen prints and occasional collages incorporating strips of newsprint. Ruth’s pictures have a quiet intensity, the of result of years spent closely observing the Kent countryside. Her studio, in a tranquil woodland setting near Faversham, is brimming with dozens of sketchbooks, prints and paintings of subjects ranging from the Swale estuary to the North Downs and the Saxon Shore Way.
Her pictures of the marshes around Faversham are acutely observed, capturing the haunting quality of the area. A recent series of screen prints of ghostly moonlight fields around Stalisfield, a remote village though just a few miles from Faversham, are particularly beguiling.
The spiky trees in the foreground offset a huge luminous moon seemingly falling out of the sky. ‘I am fascinated by the moon and the way it illuminates the landscape.’ There are obvious echoes in her prints of Samuel Palmer’s enigmatic moonlit paintings of Shoreham, near Sevenoaks.
Other works deal with the nuances in the visual effects of the ploughing of land or of the Kentish tradition of coppicing. ‘I like to weave a bit of mystery into my pictures, often using a sombre palette to heighten the atmosphere. I am interested in the traces past inhabitants have left behind in the countryside. For example, the way fields are divided, or the effect crops have had on the landscape.’ Her pictures are entirely devoid of people or animals.
It comes as no surprise to discover that Ruth admires the pictures of the early 20th century illustrator, Arthur Rackham, known for his distinctive, sinewy organic trees. ‘When I was little I was mesmerised by his illustrations for Grimm’s Fairy Tales.’
As a child Ruth liked to follow her botanist mother around. ‘She was always out in the landscape and knew the name of every plant.’ Ruth herself is always sketching or painting outside. ‘I have a collapsible chair and wear loads and loads of clothes and am constantly revisiting my favourite locations, looking and looking and reworking my sketches.’
At the beginning of the year Ruth had an artist residency at Brisons Veor on Cape Cornwall, near St. Just ‘It was quite a challenge. It was very, very stormy and bleak.’
Originally from Wigan, Ruth trained in textile design at Hornsey College of Art before studying Fine Art at Canterbury Christ Church College. ‘I decided to stay in the South,’ she says, adding ‘as it is too cold in the north.’ Ruth taught for many years, including a stint at Gravesend Grammar School, and has been a full time printmaker and painter since 2008. She has exhibited in numerous exhibitions and is participating in several this year:
The Society of Women Artists at the Mall Galleries, London SW1, from 3 – 9 July.
The Lombard Street Gallery, Margate, Kent until 4 June.
A solo show at Gallery 2, The Horsebridge Centre, Whitstable, from 30 July – 5 September.
Text: Amicia. Photographs: Lisa