Art Maker: Jan Ruby-Crystal |Painter

Last modified: Thursday, February 04, 2016

Before she could even walk, Jan Ruby-Crystal had already started to paint. That early interest, she says, blossomed into a life-long love of painting. She received a bachelor’s degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and a master’s degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, both in fine arts, then followed that with a 36-year career as a professor of art and design, working with aspiring artists and researching art-making practices in Japan, Taiwan, Europe, Britain, Canada and Latin America.

Hampshire Life: Describe the work you are doing now.

Jan Ruby-Crystal: My artwork currently is centered on painting, using a variety of paints, surfaces and multimedia combinations. “Ripe to Rotten,” now on view at Hope & Feather’s Gallery in Amherst, explores the life cycle of vegetables and fruit.

H.L.: What will the viewer see?

J. R-C.: Oil paintings that depict ripe and delectable food, arranged to emote their sensual qualities and relationship with one another through size, color and form, as well as watercolor paintings that depict vegetables and fruits as they age, their contours pushed and ripped to reveal inner seeds and juices. Finally, I mash the vegetables and fruits into pulp, and then give them a new usefulness once more as handmade paper.

H.L.: What is your creative process like?

J. R-C.: I often start by sketching or painting, creating in some material as I bring a physical presence to the mental image I have of an idea or a thought. This may lead to a painted image, but at some point, I will do research and refine my idea. This may include a visit to a playground or to a local community garden, or simply gathering things I want to include in my artwork. I deliberate on which materials will best capture my concept — which may become a painting, or a piece of jewelry, a book or any combination of things that together effectively communicate my ideas.

H.L.: How do you know you’re on the right track?

J. R-C.: When a piece is not on track, I don’t see it as a problem, but look for new directions that may be revealed in that artwork. Sometimes I file an image away for future exploration when I will work on it with renewed vigor. “The right track” is to remain diligent in my art practice, to keep creating and evolving.

H.L.: What do you do when you get stuck?

J. R-C.: I do research on the subject, or I clean up my studio, take a bike ride, go to a gallery, look back through my sketchbooks, meditate or do something that will provide an excursion from the rut I am in.

H.L.: Why do you find creating artwork so compelling?

J. R-C.: I love the teetering process of fashioning my reality out of lines, shapes, colors, values and textures, finding just the balance to infuse it with life. The magic of how thoughts that come into my head emerge as artwork never ceases to amaze and inform me. It is the greatest gift I have and the one for which I am the most grateful. I am dedicated to nurturing this creativity in myself and in others.

— Kathleen Mellen

“Ripe to Rotten” will be on view through Feb. 27 at Hope & Feathers Framing and Gallery, 319 Main St., Amherst. There will be an artist’s reception Saturday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. For information, call 835-0197. “Playful Children” will open with a reception June 10 from 5 to 8 p.m. and will remain on view through July 3 at Historic Northampton, 46 Bridge St.


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