Graphic Grey

Friday, 23 September 2011

Fabulous Photoshoot, September 2011

With thanks to Matt Cant for his wonderful photography and Nicola Wilkes for her gorgeous styling. It was such an inspiring day, and my paintings look amazing.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

 August New Work

One of my new pieces arising out of my collaboration with a polymer chemist to explore the use of industrial resins as painting mediums.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Fabric of Life (or How Commissioned Portraits are Inspired)

One of the strands of my art practice is the painting of portraits for commissions. I usually have two or three commissions on the go at any time and it's a good way of maintaining some sort of an income from the art. Commissions range from portraits of individuals done through sittings in my studio, portraits of the happy couple taken from a wedding photo, family portraits of children and babies, to corporate commissions for hotels and offices. I'm constantly challenged as no two commissions are ever the same.
Catrin Finch
Royal Harpist HRH Prince of Wales
The thing which I enjoy most about commissions is also the aspect that is the most difficult. Many  clients have an idea in their head of how they would like their painting to look. It's up to me to get this information out of their head and turn it into something real and visible. Over the years I have developed strategies to make this process a little easier, but it can still take weeks of sketches, photos and samples before I'm ready to begin the painting process.
Private Commission
Luckinly for me I have a starting point which always helps me get the commission going: the patterned fabric on which the portrait will be painted.
Wedding Portrait
Commission in Progress
Life is one long process of collection and selection, purchase and gift. Between cradle and grave we amass a huge range of possessions. We choose the objects that surround us and accompany us through life. These in effect describe us and form part of out identity: they are the fabric of our lives.

I paint on fabric chosen by my subject. This may be an old item of clothing such as a wedding dress imbued with deep emotional significance and memory, or a furnishing fabric remnant left over from the decoration of a new home. Clothes, furnishings, fabrics and patterns provide unique clues as to the identity and personality of their owner. By using vintage fabrics with a past life within my painted portraits I desire to capture a depth of substance and facets of character which paint alone cannot describe.
Private Commission
I paint the image of my subject onto a panel covered with the fabric. The transparent nature of the paint allows the fabric pattern and weave to remain visible through the portrait, signifying the way in which our likes and choices define us, and thus become an inextricable part of who we are.

I enjoy the interplay of the pattern of a figure overlaid upon the pattern of the base fabric. My ideal commission is a portrait in which my subject is wearing an intricate pattern, and so I will often ask them to wear something of this sort to the sitting. It can sometimes get a little confusing, but I love the challenge of making the various patterns work together in harmony. The use of vintage fabric instead of canvas is also very appealing if my client would like the painting to match the existing decor in their home or office as I can select a fabric to match any soft furnishings.
Private Commission
Click here to find out more about my commissioning process.

I am the Fittest Artist That I Know Of

There are so very many artists in the world; it's a tough game making my artwork stand out in front. But then I am tough so that's ok.

Besides making unique, distinctive and beautiful paintings, there's something else that makes me tick... Let me explain.

It's took me a while to pluck up the courage to pursue my dream of becoming an artist. To say the years between leaving school and deciding to pack in my job to take up my dream place on a Fine Art degree course were messy and out of control would be an understatement. But with art came passion, motivation and a will to succeed that I didn't know I possessed. And so the new me was born. But it's tough ditching the old, bad habits. How to deal with the lows of rejection and fear of failure which so often follow on from a creation high? What to do when optimism is brought crashing down with a single word and self doubt threatens to cause self destruction?

The answer was easy: toughen up! For me, I discovered that a strong body = a strong mind. Physical challenges release me from artistic torment and strife and put me in a sane place.

So I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the creative insanity of art drives me to sport, but also that sport and physical challenges feed my art. The sense of pleasure I derive from seeing muscle structure developing on my own body (anatomy for the artist in the flesh!) or on the body of one of my clients (for I am now also a qualified strength trainer with a goal of creating beautiful bodies and passing on my love for fitness and the healing and restorative powers of sport) is another step forward in my ultimate search for aesthetic perfection.

I love beautiful forms and strive to make every piece of my artwork into a thing of beauty. I reckon art should bring about a powerful aesthetic response in the viewer. My fascination is with beauty of form, of line, the beauty of a pattern and the way that various images can be made to interact and work together.

A Lacuna

It's the challenge of making something beautiful from base materials that I love, whether transforming the human body through exercise or transforming canvas and fabrics through resin and paint.

And so my obsessive quest goes on. I have so many ideas in my head and in numerous books that sometimes I feel I will explode. Whenever things get too much for me I go and run or pick up the heaviest weight I can find and this gives me the head space I need to continue painting. I'm constantly anazed by what my body can do, particularly after all those years of being treated so badly. I now have the gym record for female deadlift (140kg) and compete in Crossfit and strength competitions.

Competing in UK Strength and Power Series
70kg one handed deadlift

I'm also constantly amazed by the things I can create. Looking at a painting that's amazing and thinking "I made that," is truly a great experience.

The combination of art and fitness is possibly an unusual one, and I usually get surprised reactions from people in either world when I say what I do, but it works for me. Artists of all kinds are known for being tormented by demons and plagued by creative blocks and perhaps that is what drives us to create. And with so many dubious and unhealthy coping strategies about I feel lucky to have found something that saves me from this downwards spiral without destroying myself at the same time.

Perhaps more artists should give it a go.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Fibre Art Wales Show at Newport Museum and Art Gallery

'Fibre Voices', the Fibre Art Wales ten year anniversary exhibition was on show in the Newport City Museum and Art Gallery.

Fabulous work in a fabulous setting. Thanks to everyone involved for making this great show happen.

 Work by Michelle Griffiths and Shellie Holden

Gallery View

 Ruth Harries (foreground) and Ruth McLees

 Laura Thomas (foreground), Alison Mercer and Ruth McLees

 Work by Lisa Porch

 Work by Helen Foroughi and Bethan Ash

Work by Kathryn Campbell-Dodd

With thanks to Michelle Griffiths and Lisa Porch for use of their photos.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Oriel Canfas Live Music and Art Collaboration

What flattery! Music has been written about my paintings. Commissioned by Arcomis, the premiere's tonight. Can't wait...

Monday, 6 June 2011

Oriel Canfas Exhibition Opens This Friday!

Come on guys! I'm looking for people to paint during my exhibition. To be in with a chance of featuring in one of my portraits follow me on Twitter @RuthMcLeesArt and send me a message to say you'd like to take part. You'll need to submit a photo of yourself in your room. The photo must be good quality with a good contrast between dark and light.

Selected pictures will be painted live in the gallery during the exhibition.

See below for more information.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


June 11th – July 2nd 2011
YouTube teen trend inspires my new paintings.

I've got an upcoming show in Oriel Canfas, Canton, Cardiff, in June 2011. Inspired by the YouTube phenomenon of 'room tours', I've taken images of girls from ‘room tour’ videos posted on the internet and painted them on patterned fabric chosen to match the d├ęcor of their rooms.

What began as an innocent trend of girls filming their rooms to show their online friends becomes uncomfortable and potentially sinister when displayed in public.

During the course of the exhibition, which runs from 11th June – 2nd July, I will complete a painting live in the gallery. The painting will be taken from a ‘room tour’ style photo: members of the public are asked to submit their own photos via Twitter @RuthMcLeesArt, with the best being used for the painting.

My emphasis here is on working with various materials that contribute a deeper meaning to the artwork and progress my creative process. This work will grow from engagement with my subjects through which I can explore their identity.

When I first discovered ‘room tour’ videos through an article I read in the paper, I was both fascinated and disturbed. On the one hand it’s always fascinating to get a glimpse into someone’s private life; a bit like looking through lit curtain-less windows at night, and so is the perfect subject matter for me to paint. On the other I find the whole idea of ‘room tours’ deeply uncomfortable because of what the implications of baring yourself, albeit innocently, on the internet can be.

For more information, images and to keep track of the progress of the live painting please log on to and

o The private view will be Friday 10th June 6.30-8.30pm. Please Come!

o Press Preview Viewings arranged by appointment.

o Oriel Canfas is open Mon-Fri 1-4.30pm; Sat 10.30-4pm; closed Sunday.
o Oriel Canfas, 44a Glamorgan Street, Canton, Cardiff CF5 1QS;
02920 666455
o Ruth McLees work also on show:
30th April-11th June at Newport Museum and Art Gallery

8th June-2nd July at project/ten, 33 High Street Arcade, Cardiff

8th-10th July at Parallax Art Fair, La Galleria, Royal Opera Arcade, Pall Mall, London

Monday, 21 February 2011

St David's Hall Show... Opens this Friday!

On Friday February 25th 5pm-7pm, at St David’s Hall, Cardiff.


"Maybe the existing forms of art for the ideas men have had are inadequate for the ideas women have."' Susana Torre, 1976

An Exhibition of contemporary Women Artists who practice in Wales, celebrating the ideas they have in 2011

Curated by Ruth Cayford.

Artemisia Gentileschi lends her name to this extensive exhibition, which brings together the work of numerous women artists currently active in Wales. She was not only an extraordinary Renaissance artist, but also occupied a key role in the recovery of women artists’ history begun by feminists around forty years ago, who sifted through centuries of neglect, not only to uncover forgotten women artists, but perhaps more importantly, they identified shared expressions for the women artists yet to come.

Art’s forms and content have not been without issues for women artists, since both had been defined by male artists. It took a further ideological leap for women to shift from battling with exclusion to a positive questioning of approaches to creativity, emerging from a wish to express their differences, differently. That women might re-define art’s practice by exploring what had hitherto been invisible or defined as ‘not art’, produced some provocative work. Stylistic innovation was perhaps not the most important of these differences, the ‘ideas that women have’ most certainly was. It became clear that historical frictions bound in to the two roles - woman and artist - presented them with unique challenges. What has become clearer now, is that these challenges have enriched their work.

Women’s greater participation in art has transformed art, flipping the subtly nuanced labels sometimes used to relegate their work to obscurity in the Fine Arts (charming, decorative, domestic) entirely on their heads. Refusing hierarchies, they have explored (using that old feminist adage) the personal with the political, intimacy with the allegorical, sensitivity with edginess, the fragile with the dark, fantasy with fetish. In short their creative strategies are as diverse and multi-textured as women themselves, and are abundantly evidenced in this exhibition.

The complexity of human relationships, including self-identity, is navigated through memory and fantasy, and is just as likely to be intensely personal as it is universally symbolic. Desires for connection are also explored through responses to place or location, and might reference the landscape of history, or even pre-history, or the personal space of the domestic. The body, that well contested area, is still of immense importance to a number of the artists here, particularly evidenced through performance based art; its potential for ritual significance seems endless. Drawing is clearly immensely valued as a visualising tool, but no more so than stitching, printing, constructing, photographing, filming and mark making from the fragile to the urgent.

But never forget that whilst our recognition of the ideas and creativity which women have brought to art may seem a recent understanding, in truth Artemisia was already there; it is recognised that her intense portrayal of powerful women differed from interpretations by her male peers. The contest we now face, in a time when arts education is seriously threatened, is that of ensuring that the gains women artists have made in the past forty years are never underestimated and continue to influence art. This exhibition is a timely reminder that Artemisia’s legacy needs to be wholeheartedly celebrated.

Sue Griffith.

Head of School of Contextual Studies & Fine Art.

Swansea Metropolitan University.

Featuring Sue Williams, Rozanne Hawksley, Catrin Webster, Di Setch, Dilys Jackson, Virginia Head, Rebecca Spooner, Adele Vye, Fern Thomas, Amanda Roderick, Gemma Copp, Anna Barrett, Jacqueline Alkema, Corrie Chiswell, Becky Adams, Susan Adams, Kathryn Ashill, Kathryn Campbell Dodd, Heather Eastes, Annie Giles Hobbs, Ruth Harries, Penny Hallas, Mary Husted, Daphne Hurn, Ann Jordon, Tiff Oben, Luned Rhys Parri, Jane Taylor, Miranda Whall, Dawn Woolley, Sue Hunt, Rebecca Gould, Eirian Llwyd, Lisa Jones, Nicola O’Neill, Ruth McLees, Bella Kerr, Helen Booth, Jean Walcot, Jo Alexander, Wendy Couling, Su Roberts, Janet Walters and Lisa Tann.

The Exhibition continues until April 9th.

For more information please contact:

Ruth Cayford.

029 20878706

Jack of All Trades

Aaaahhh, the life of an artist... Sitting in my warm studio, looking at the view of sea and sky through my large picture window, and with galleries and buyers knocking on my door every day. Great eh? Why would anyone choose to be anything else?

Sadly that dream is usually a little different from reality. Not to say that my work isn't in demand, but the time in between exhibitions and shows can be anything but plain sailing.

I've been having a good ol' think about this, as I've just left an Arts and Business event where I engaged in some full on networking to promote my May exhibition. At least twice I was asked about the amount of painting time I get in my studio each week, and I guess the answer to this is that some weeks I don't get very much at all.

The life of a practising artist is often less about the art and more about the business of art... something I was never taught in art school. There is nothing glamourous about it (well, ok, perhaps the occasional opening night is a little swanky), and there is definitely nothing easy about it. Indeed, the longer I'm an artist, the more I believe that half the battle to a successful career comes down to bloody minded persistance.

There is sometimes sadly very little art making going on in my studio, but instead there is a lot of serious business: marketing, researching, writing proposals, meetings, accounts, admin, packing and posting, the list goes on! Sometimes it feels as thoug my life could be filled with these tasks and I would be completely busy without making any art at all!

At first this can all seem pretty daunting. I wanna be an artist to create! I didn't sign up for an office job! But wait, what's the point of making art if you have nowhere to put it and no one gets to see it? Very few of us would say they had a fulfilling art career if their work never came out of storage. So that's why I ended gritting my teeth and getting down to the serious job of making myself into a one-girl business.

And guess what? I found that I enjoyed it! I'm an artist but I now I am also confident as a business. Let's face it, when looking for work, us artists are often also in direct competition with other arts professionals such as designers and architects, who usually have extremely polished and professional images. How can we expect to be treated equally, no matter how good the quality of the art we create, if we are not prepared to get our image and other skills up to scratch?

So why choose this life?

Do it if you are compelled to make art. Do it if you want to work really hard at something you love. Don't do it if you think it's an easy life or all about making art. Don't do it if you think it's a quick track to fame and riches.
New work for Artemisia show

I love to paint and I love to create so the fact I can work hard and turn it into a career has always been what I wanted to do. But to prove it's not all about the painting, here's a short run down of everything I've done today...

8.20 am. Studio. Design of new work for group show.
11.00 am. Studio. Completion of painting, mirror plating, wrapping and packing of work for this Friday's show, Artemisia at St David's Hall, Cardiff.
12.30 pm. Lunch. Respond to emails, make phone calls.
2.30 pm. Collect painting from framer.
3.00 pm. Deliver work to gallery. Meeting with exhibition officer.
4.30 pm. Writing of proposal for arts based training day.
5.45 pm. Arts and Business Wales networking event.
8.00 pm. Write blog!

Whew! An artist's work is never done! And not even half the day was spent actually painting! There are other days too, when I don't even get to my studio as I'm devising and running projects, workshops and arts training sessions elsewhere.

Are you bored yet? Surprised? Or does this little glimpse into a day of my life give you a new appreciation for the amount of time, energy and resources that actually go into a piece of art that you purchase?

I'm interested in the experience of ather artists too. Perhaps this blog can begin a larger dialogue about what it takes to devote your life to making art. What kind of support do you think is necessary for artists to flourish as viable businesses? How much, as a society, do we value (or not) art and the making of art?. I believe our contribution is critical, and as a society we need to do more to support the path of individuals who dedicate their lives to the tricky business of making art.