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Artist tests the limits of beauty

ANNA BLOOM, Of the Record staff

Technically speaking, Ginny Ruffner cannot meld glass and metal. The materials don’t mix it’s an impossibility. Her 6-foot-high flower-like forms that will soon show at the Kimball Art Center, likewise don’t exist in nature. But that’s what is fun about her work, Ruffner insists, and that’s what imagination is good for.

"I like a challenge," she explains and, given Ruffner’s life story, few could disagree with that statement.

Ruffner, a Seattle-based studio glass artist and innovator and a contemporary of Dale Chihuly, survived a car crash 16 years ago that left her in a coma for weeks and in the hospital for months. For five years, she relied on a wheelchair. Despite the handicaps, however, Ruffner emerged from the wreck still an artist. When asked about it, Ruffner calls the accident "old news."

Furthermore, she had no choice, she says: being an artist is not about what you do, it’s who you are.

"It’s definitely made some obvious changes in a) the way I talk and b) the way I walk, but everything else is just fine," she says. "If it’s affected me at all, it’s only made me all the more determined to make art — this is what I need to be doing, this is why I’m here."

Ruffner holds a master’s degree in drawing and painting from the University of Georgia and shows work in more than 30 museums around the world.

The 10-piece show at the Kimball opening Saturday, Nov. 3, is titled "Aesthetic Engineering" and is, in part, Ruffner’s reflection of her profession. Whereas glass is perceived as weaker or more fragile than metal, in its ideal form, glass is much stronger, she explains. Ruffner appreciates the contradiction, because she often finds a similar misconception in the public’s perception of being an artist.

"Making art is perceived as an easy thing to do and other jobs are perceived as being difficult, which is not always true," she says. "Art making can be extremely difficult because the insides are what you use to give art meaning — what you think, what you feel. There are no other jobs where you put your insides, your interior on the line."

More literally, "Aesthetic Engineering" is Ruffner’s investigation of beauty. She enjoys the hybrid, the mix, and the imagination of tinkering with objects like flowers, a universal symbol for something pretty.

"For years, I have been curious or investigating beauty, its meaning and its uses and how we teach it, how we create it, how we define it," she explains. "For me to feel or to signify the concept of beauty is to find a recognizable object that would signify beauty. That’s kind of hard. What is a universally accepted thing that connotes beauty? Flowers are a good way."

Ruffner works from the inside out. She argues her works will never look like Chihuly’s or anyone else’s, because her process is innate and inherently carry’s her mark.

"I just make art from my life, my heart, my soul, my experience," Ruffner says, "and no one has that but me and that’s what makes me different."

Mainly, Ruffner sketches and, from time to time, gets involved with the glass-blowing portion of her creations. She considers herself an architect, a composer, drafting detailed instructions to be performed by experts in glass blowing and metal fabrication.

"I am the content provider, to use the computer lingo," she says. "It’s like being an architect. We all know what a Frank Geary building looks like, but I guarantee you he did not even touch it when it was being constructed and the same thing for like a composer. A composer most often does not play in the orchestra every single time, his or her piece is performed."

Ruffner has never been to Park City before, but she plans on making a splash. These days, she works in a grand scale, making sculptures that require a truck to move, so that her work can’t help but be noticed.

"Anything smaller than your head is very easy to ignore: ‘Oh that’s nice. Put it on the shelf and dust it every week and then every now and again look at it and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s pretty." I want something that is un-ignorable — that you can’t just put on a shelf and ignore," she says. "Kind of pushy, huh?"

Members and the public, invited to sign up for memberships, are welcome to attend the opening of "Aesthetic Engineering" at the Kimball Art Center Saturday, Nov. 3 beginning at 6 p.m. R.S.V.P. to officemanager@kimball-art.org. Ruffner’s work will be on display through Jan. 10. The Kimball Art Center is located at 638 Park Ave. and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, closed on Tuesdays and is open from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends. For details, visit http://www.kimball-art.org and for more information about Ginny Ruffner, visit http://www.ginnyruffner.com.


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