Ruth Bercaw has been creating art for over 65 years. The Cleveland resident and Kendal at Home member is known for her unique geometric, 3D paintings, which are currently featured in Bonfoey Gallery’s “Engaging Women” exhibit.
She creates each shape by hand using wood and styrofoam. She then stitches canvas tightly so it stretches over the shapes like upholstery and paints each shape.
“From the first, it was a gamble,” Bercaw said. “To go from creating the illusion of three dimensions on flat surfaces (as was an important artistic goal in past centuries) to painting on actual three-dimensional forms might have been looked upon as a distraction from serious art. Some years ago when I built my first forms, I worried that profound aspects of my new work might be missed. Fortunately, I was mistaken. They were not only accepted, but my works such as these in the exhibition are also collected.”
The impact of Bercaw’s wall reliefs can be extended depending on where one is placed in a home or on display, creating additional shadows or colors.
“Consider that ordinary, run-of-the-mill light flowing over my 3D paintings produces gently modulated tones and shadows, modifying both color and shape; while under strong, directed light, those same shadowed areas change into more dramatic shapes with higher contrast,” Bercaw explained. “Multiple light sources may further extend a work by projecting interesting overlapping patterns of shadow onto contiguous wall areas. And if the piece is hung near a window or other natural light source, emotional response to a given painting will change in incremental stages as the intensity of light increases and then decreases as the day progresses toward night.”
The exhibit, which runs through April 28, is the last that will feature Bercaw’s 3D works because the demands of creating them cause pain in her hands. She also creates two-dimensional works of art.
Bercaw draws her inspiration from elements of life, including the human spirit.
“I intend my art to be a visual manifestation of our knowingly positive attitude toward life, and our very human ability to experience joy and recognize beauty in a variety of forms,” she said.
The 3D wall reliefs stood out to arts writer Brittany Hudak.
“For me, the star of the show is the artist Ruth Bercaw,” Hudak wrote in the Cleveland Arts Network (CAN) Journal. “These wall reliefs free the canvas from the two-dimensional constraints of traditional painting and morph away from the plastic surface into the realm of sculpture. Reminiscent of the work of Elizabeth Murray and Frank Stella, but with much more restraint – these minimal forms are nevertheless very tactile – their surfaces rough, revealing layers of work and mystery objects embedded in the surface.”
Bercaw earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis and her Master of Fine Arts degree from Kent State University. In addition to the Bonfoey Gallery, you can see her work on display at the Annual Members Exhibition, Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, which runs until May 3.
Her work is also featured within corporate collections at Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University, the Ritz Carlton in Cleveland, and several other collections throughout Ohio and the country. Her work is for sale on her website and at the exhibitions.