Earlier this month the important artistic icon Ruth Asawa passed away at 87 years old, and the arts & design blogosphere have been featuring retrospectives all month, as they should. Typically they are all sharing the exact same quotes and biographic information about Ruth, so here is some info about her life and some photos of her iconic work.
Ruth Asawa was born in California in 1926 to a family of Japanese-American immigrants. In the 1940s, her family was interned in Japanese holding camps, where she continued to learn art from famous artists also interned during the war, and after graduating from the camp high school she attended college to become an art teacher. She was unable to complete her degree because no school would hire her for her requisite teaching hours.
Afterwards, she attended Black Mountain College and studied under Bauhaus transplant Joseph Albers (say what?!?!). According to the official bio, she traveled to Mexico in 1947 where she learned the local craft of crocheting wire baskets, which defined her art installations throughout the 1950s and '60s. The result was the gorgeous, crocheted hanging forms that are pictured here. They are large bulbous sequences of lines, sometimes holding smaller scale items inside larger ones. She knitted these art objects, both smaller scale and massive, by hand, often while her young children sat by her side.
Of her sculptures Ruth said they are composed only of lines, "because of the economy of a line, making something in space, enclosing it without blocking it out. (...) I realized that if I was going to make these forms, which interlock and interweave, it can only be done with a line because a line can go anywhere." The voluptuous forms of these breath taking sculptures were inspired by a chore from her childhood on her family's farm that required her to ride on the back of a leveler, providing the opportunity that she took to draw lines in the dirt with her feet. With this image in mind, combined with the technique's origins in artisanal crafts, there is an enormous amount of memory stored in the fabrication of the sculptures, woven in with the extreme Craft with which they were made.
She is also know for her tied wire sculptures inspired by desert plants, which were hung on walls or suspended like her other sculptures. In fascinating mutations of both of these styles, some of Ms. Asawa's sculptures seem to exhibit a trait of odd kelp-like plants as well as of exercises in formal knitting patterns, and in their exhibition space at the foot of the M.H.de Young Memorial Museum they are lit in superb fashion.
Ruth's work has been exhibited in many of the country's most famous modern art museums, including it's permanent installations at the Whitney and de Young. She is also famous in San Francisco, her home, as "the fountain lady", for her many public fountains which are far more solid and formal than her wire work. By the 1980s she was an institute in her own right, famous for her art advocacy, and was honored in 2010 be the dedication of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in her honor. In 1978, 1996 and 1998 she was given honorary doctorates in art by the California College of Arts and Crafts, the San Francisco Art Institute, and San Francisco State University (in that order). When finally offered a doctorate degree by the first college she attended for a teaching degree, Milwaukee State Teachers College, she declined, opting for the bachelors degree they'd never granted her in the 40s.