Ruth Carlyle art exhibit gives dry cleaning a new meaning

Some people take their shirts to the dry cleaners. Carson City artist Ruth Carlyle takes her paintings. But don't call the culture police just yet.

Carlyle fashions still lifes and landscapes using dye on silk. The images are dry cleaned to remove a substance that forms outlines and prevents the dye from seeping beyond them while the paintings are created.

"It's just like cleaning a silk scarf," Carlyle explains, laughing lightly. She says the technique is generally similar to one used in the Indian art of batik.

Carlyle's fruits and flowers now luxuriate in an exhibit in the Joseph J. Anderson Gallery at the Nevada State Library and Archives in Carson City. Katya Dach, art coordinator for the library, chose Carlyle for the show, which contains 26 works and will run about three months.

Carlyle "discovered the joy of painting with dyes on silk" about six or seven years ago and now concentrates in this medium. Silk lends her work a delicate texture and, in combination with her vibrant palette, imparts a sensuous luminosity to her subjects.

"Part of that is the sensuous nature of the silk," she says. "You get such vivid colors. I like vivid colors, strong imagery. I'm going after the big effect."

But even at their brightest, Carlyle's colors - blazing fuchsias, insistent yellows, impossibly saturated ceruleans, delicate whites with tremblingly pink undertones - never become hallucinogenic as in, say, Pop Art. And Carlyle never uses color solely as an abstract element in her paintings.

"White Poppy" is a characteristic specimen. From a distance, it's almost an abstract study in how white tonalities can be molded by darker tints. But close up, the flower gloriously emerges, a profusion of feminine surfaces that recalls the sexually suggestive florals of Georgia O'Keeffe. Carlyle says O'Keeffe is "my all-time favorite artist."

This play between representation and abstraction is also notably taken up in "California Dreaming," where nearly abstract bands of color define hills that recede into the distance, and "Apples/Bags," with its sassily tumbling fruit set against four basic compositional color blocks.

Carlyle acknowledges the abstract component in her work -"I've never liked superrealism or photorealism" - while nonetheless emphasizing that her images are "always grounded in something natural, not abstract. This isn't color field painting."

"Apples/Bags" also demonstrates the artist's incredible handling of dye, which is far less stable than paint. "Dye goes where it wants to," Carlyle says.

The tones in the bags and the white tablecloth are beautifully modulated, color used exquisitely to define the folds in each. The apples are waxy perfection, the sheen on their skins deftly placed, the middle apple seemingly ready to fall deliciously across the picture plane and into the viewer's outstretched hand.

Carlyle has exhibited her work at the King Street Gallery in Carson City, the River Gallery in Reno, the East Fork Gallery in Gardnerville and at Art Truckee in Truckee, Calif. She is a member of the Nevada Artists Association. The works at the library exhibit are for sale from about $300 to $500.

"It's nice to sell a painting occasionally, " acknowledges Carlyle, whose pictures reside in private collections in the U.S. and Australia. "It's nice to have people appreciate the work enough to own it. But if I had tried to support myself with my art, I would have starved long ago."


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