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Art Success. Adelaide Damoah in Conversation with Ruth Bircham

Ruth Bircham is one of the boldest and bravest artists I have ever come across, working passionately and with a determined spirit, in the face of adversity. Born in 1966 in Stoke-on-Trent, Bircham says that she has been painting since before she could even talk. She used painting and drawing to express herself as a child as she did not speak until she was five. Bircham would draw small pictures to communicate what she wanted to her mother. With a BA (Hon) in Fine Art and Media under her belt, Bircham cites the Rennaissance, Corporeality, Impressionism and Abstract Realism as her influences. I say bold and brave because her latest work confronts sex and sexuality in a way that is so real, so in your face, that it actually takes your breath away. Some could not be posted here for that reason! Please go to her website. I spent an hour talking to her about her personal thoughts on success in the art world.

Ruth Bircham
Adelaide Damoah (AD): How would you describe your work?
Ruth Bircham (RB): Well my latest work could be described as… Erotic. Everyone can relate to sexuality. Sexual aesthetics… I am trying to create an art movement called Eroticism. I am bringing international artists from countries including the USA, certain countries in Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines, Italy and Spain together to collaborate and tour on a large scale. There are a lot of countries that see sex as a taboo subject. I am trying to break the boundaries of the perceptions that some people have about sex. But this work should be seen as art and not as pornographic. As adults, most of us will have sex at some point in our lives so it should not be something which is hidden. It is a beautiful thing. In certain parts of Africa, they will not touch the subject. I am still trying to get an exhibition of this work to happen in Nigeria. I have been turned down by 20 galleries so far! It is really funny. I once exhibited at a gallery in Nigeria and the owner was shocked at the work. There were fragments of breasts, legs and vagina’s all over the work and she did not like it at all. This work was to demonstrate the male gaze. Men often do not look at a woman as a whole. They see her in fragments, saying things like, “she has nice breasts,” or “I like her bottom.” When I broke it down to her in those terms, she was a bit more understanding. I had my first solo show in 2009. One woman approached a painting and said, “Is that erm…” She could not bring herself to say what it was. It was a penis. People are afraid to say penis and people are afraid to say breast. After that, I decided that my next exhibition would be even worse! I was involved in a group show in November 2011 called Hidden Fruit. My work was the most explicit work in the show. I hung it on the wall opposite the entrance to the space so that it was not hidden. We all need to accept who we all are as human beings.
Observers of Ruth’s bold painting at Art Erotica Exhibition in London 2011.
AD: Are you now a professional artist? Is art all that you do or are you doing other things to support your work?
RB: People have called me a master, a professional and I am not sure why that is. I think it is because I don’t hide. I face everything. I am a confrontational artist. I have bad problems with both of my legs- with bad arthritis in my knees and both hips so I do not do any other work, just painting.
AD: Do you regularly sell work at your shows?
RB: Because I love my work so much, I set the price very high so that very few people can afford it. I don’t make any money from my shows.
Thorn in Lip (c) Ruth Bircham
AD: What would your ultimate dream be for your work?
RB: My ultimate dream is to get this art movement with the artists off the ground. I want them to realise that being bold, being expressive and loud in your work is the best way forward. They should not allow other people to restrict them or tell them what to paint. My aim is to motivate artists to create art in the way that they want to create it. I would not say that I am professional or that I am famous or anything. I would just say that I am very determined.
Skin Deep. (c) Ruth Bircham
AD: You are definitely that! Seems like a silly question but would you like to make money from your art?
RB: I would love to! I would love to be able to live comfortably from my art and to help others to do the same. I do have a potential buyer in Berlin and a sponsor in Switzerland who helps me in many ways, including circulating my work to his contacts around the world. The problem is that because of the financial crisis, few people are willing to buy right now. The market seems to be for African art at the moment though.
Lusty Big Lips. (c) Ruth Bircham
AD: What would be your personal definition of success in the art world?
RB: To be in a position where you are making art which is not restricted by the opinions of others. To know your market, and to know what you are producing it and why, and what it is doing for the people that experience it. Art is not about money and material things. It has come to be about that. Art is about expression. When others view it, they then make up their minds as to what the work is saying to them. Art is about what the artist puts in and what the audience takes out. If it sells, that is good, but if it does not, that is still good because it means that it is there for others to see and get something from over and over again.
Way Forward. (c) Ruth Bircham
AD: So for you, success is not just about money, it is about knowing yourself, being true to yourself, creating artwork which is unique to you without having people impose their ideas about what they think you should be doing?
RB: Yes. Being real, keeping it real. I talk to many people who tell me about their experiences in life. I build an image in my mind and go away and paint it. When they look at the work, they are surprised and realise that I have painted what they were talking about. It is not just questioning, it is answering as well. For example, as a black woman, I like to let people know through my work that yes, black people do have a history, but do not let that history dictate your future. Your hands may once have been in chains, but do not let your mind still be in chains.
Baby in Tear. (c) Ruth Bircham
With that in mind, what advice would you give to any young people looking to make their first footsteps into the art world?
RB: Persistence, determination and self motivation. Keep on pushing forward and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Keep telling yourself that you can and you will and you will get there.
AD: Do you have any exhibitions where people can see your work this year?
RB: I have been invited to submit work to Art Erotica in Cork Street, London. I have also been invited to do a collaborative project in Nigeria. I am working on getting that together now. I have 250 artists in my Erotica art movement group so far (Forbidden Fruits). I am looking for others to join in because for me it is about supporting each other as artists. I put the group together myself with Titus Agbara, Edward Ofosu and Shallman Quarshie. They and many others have given me much encouragement. The first show was last November in London. We are hoping to do another one this year.
Lust. (c) Ruth Bircham
View more of Ruth Bircham’s erotic art at http://unimaginableimagery.yolasite.com