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Ruth Bercaw (1932-)

Delighted, 2018

Materials: Mixed-media (acrylic and collage), 28” x 50”

Location at Summa Health:  Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, fifth floor between rooms H5-125 and H5-126.

About the art and artist

Delighted is a mixed-media work in which Ruth Bercaw uses color “as a marker of energy, of life.” The repeated circular forms follow almost predictable paths, until they don’t. They are especially energized with the artist’s deft imposition of compositional hints: What we might think of as “background”, a simple horizon line suggesting sea below and sky above, as well as a “frame,” the vertical red and black at either side, across which wayward shapes then bounce. We the beholders might want to read these shapes as suns or planets or stars, but their range of simple colors – some painted, some collaged paper or foil, some painted on top of the collaged pieces – and subtle textures really don’t support that interpretation so much as invite us to imagine something perhaps less obvious (subatomic energy particles, molecules, dust motes…). Bercaw aims for her work to embody “a philosophy of sparking, spluttering life of some sort, ever morphing and moving forward,” while critic Max Douglas Utter has described her mixed-media works as “spacious, geometric panoramas,” evocative of deep time as well as of prehistoric human mark-making. 

Artists have used mixed media since the early 20th century to expand the reach of traditional materials in media such as painting or sculpture.They also use  mixed media to introduce degrees of ambiguity that can open beholders’ perceptions beyond those easily-recognized categories. Most often, collaged paper, fibers, natural materials, and human-made objects have found their way into/onto the canvas or panel of paintings, and sculpture involving multiple materials and techniques is another mixed-media avenue. 

Here, Bercaw has glued cutout papers that adhere to her muted palette (note that most of the colors she has chosen are mixed with other colors, and/or black and white, to be less vivid, less vibrant). Some of these choices also contribute subtle textures that appeal to our sense of touch. Other painters have also used collage to create effects that are harder to achieve with paint alone, and some like to collage layer upon layer of materials to create a final effect which is as much relief sculpture as of painting. In addition to Delighted, you will find many works by artists in the Summa Collection who have used collage in mixed media to enrich our visual and tactile experience and to stimulate us to think about what we experience when artists blur the lines between familiar categories.

After growing up in Missouri and earning her B.F.A. at the University of Missouri, Bercaw came to Northeast Ohio for graduate study at Kent State University. She completed the M.F.A. degree in 1985 and since then she has made art in multiple media while maintaining a studio and residing in Cleveland. She exhibits regularly in solo and group shows and has built her practice on exploring styles and a range of media to create work that plays “against itself” in order to open up further directions. She says that she has not been particularly interested in following specific artistic movements or trends but instead prefers to develop ideas that she can express in color and (almost abstract) form in more intuitive and personal ways.

Where you can see more of this artist’s work

Bercaw’s website presents a selection of her more recent work, while an overview of all her work can be found at the Artists’ Archives of the Western Reserve. She has been an active participant in the arts community in greater Cleveland, having exhibited work there and in Columbus and Cincinnati, as well as in Oberlin, Youngstown, and many other Ohio venues; in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and in Rome, Spoleto, Termoli, Pratolo Peligna, and Mozzate in Italy; in Kuala Lumpur and in Singapore.

Other work by Bercaw may be viewed at the Federal Reserve Bank, Case Western Reserve University, Parker Hannifin, and the Ritz Carlton, all in Cleveland; at the Westin Hotel and the Boston Medical Center in Boston; and at the Cleveland Clinic in Naples, Fla., in addition to many works held in private collections in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Washington, Italy, and Spain.

The healing arts at Summa Health


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