Based out of Los Angeles, Ruby Roth is a writer, painter, and a former best-selling children’s author. Through her art, Roth explores the inner lives of women, the complexities of femininity, and the female form. To discuss Roth’s work and her journey into the art world, she joined us for an interview.
Firstly, how are you and what’s the latest project you’ve been working on?
This year has been a doozy. I secretly had a great time in 2020-2021. I loved being holed up and excused from social participation, though I must’ve had a delayed reaction because 2022-23 has been energetically nasty. But I’ve seen it as an assignment to clear the decks.
So I finished a book I’d been working on for seven years titled Boss Inside: A Reclamation of the Feminine. Pulled from detailed journals and sketchbooks, it’s a collection of writing, art, and photos that poured out of me as I started my life over again at age 34, leaving the 14-year identity-defining relationship that had shaped my entire adulthood. It was a monumental transition for me, from utter matrimonial dependence to sovereign singlehood. The book chronicles my path forward as I reclaimed my life, my art, my creativity, my sexuality, and my relationship to men and masculinity itself. It will be a story recognized by any woman who has ever given herself away, and a lantern in the dark for anyone finding their way back. The book and the process of releasing it was an unearthing for me, of my instincts, my intuition, and the feminine force I drew upon to heal and move forward.
Your art practice delves into the inner lives of women and the “wilderness” of femininity. Could you share more about the themes and emotions that inspire your work in this realm?
I find being a woman to be pretty mystical. Through thousands of years of human spirituality and archetypes, femininity has been recognized as a force of intuition and instincts; an energy of creativity, sensuality, receptiveness, nurturing or healing, and cooperation with, or transmutation of, other energies. Nature, and our experience of it, is also closely tied to the feminine. I’m interested in the female body as a vessel of these forces, always reckoning with the energies of our inner and outer worlds and seeking a sacred balance. And I think because we have cellular memory of centuries of cultural heritages that came before us, those who identify with femininity also feel good when we’re practicing our version of ancient rituals or rites. We start to feel bad when we have cause to remember being suppressed or punished, scarlet-lettered, burned at the stake. So the women in my drawings and paintings are often alone, in vast landscapes communing with the moon, or alone where they can be free to exercise their deepest natures.
Your journey with scoliosis has been a significant part of your life. How has this experience influenced how you perceive and portray the human body in your art?
Distortion and asymmetry were bodily signatures before they were stylistic choices in my art. Art was an early outlet for pain as I started aggressive scoliosis treatment at age four. I ended up wearing a hard plastic back brace 20-plus hours a day for 13 years and it morphed my body to its form. It dented my hips, squared my ribs, and gave me permanent scars. Having studied my own body, and bones since I first saw them on an X-ray as a child, I became deeply interested in drawing bodies, especially from live models, and living vicariously through others. I exaggerated what I found interesting and beautiful, and through observational drawing, found a way to see the beauty in my scars and asymmetry. Distortion then just became natural to my drawing and painting style, and I use it to bring out whatever I see emotionally in my subjects.
Your transition from being a best-selling children’s author to focusing on fine art is a significant shift. Can you discuss the factors or experiences that led to this transition? How has your background in children’s literature influenced your current artistic practice, if at all?
My personal work was always figurative, but I also wanted to make art with a purpose beyond self-expression. My college art was always rooted in social or political commentary, way more illustrative than the conceptual assignments the teachers pushed. My first paid job out of school was teaching art at an after-school program and when my students noticed my eating habits, their trillion questions inspired me to create the first non-fiction books of their kind in children’s literature about veganism. “Vegan” was just becoming a household term and the books took off as the demographic exploded and I became a spokesperson for the cause. It was a dream start, using art as a tool for change. The biggest influence this chapter had on the rest of my career was the discipline and production schedule involved. I really developed a full-fledged brand with a targeted following by first finding a hole in the market, making something unique, having a genuine origins story, and then networking my ass off, vending at every fest I could, and expanding the line of merch and services I offered, from prints to speaking engagements, blogging, social media content, etc. So from the jump of my career, I understood art as a real jobby-job that requires a 360º skillset beyond just the craft, and a long-term commitment to growth.
As an artist based in Los Angeles, how do you perceive the art scene influencing your work and vice versa? Are there specific aspects of the local or global art community that have shaped your artistic journey?
Because I was more focused on my children’s books and my ex’s career until I left that relationship at age 34, I didn’t start making rounds in the scene for myself until recently. I feel kind of lucky to have developed a strong sense of self before being influenced by anything going on out there. When I started showing up then, it was on my own terms and everything true about the scene that you hear before you’re in it—gallerists being inaccessible, pay-to-play schemes, the sleazy promises, broken promises—was just laughable instead of debilitating. It feels good not to be influenced; to drop into gallery shows or art fairs and be there because I truly want to be, because I believe I have something to bring to the table, because I genuinely support other artists and galleries, and because I want to know these folks and create community. I am not influenced creatively by the scene, but I do get hits of inspiration to keep developing my craft by being in a motivated, hard-working, skilled community of people.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring artists who are embarking on their journey into the art world, what would it be?
Prepare for peaks and valleys. Most likely, there will always be alternating periods of “feast and famine,” and if you recognize them both as temporary states and have faith in the chapters, you will just keep going no matter what and figure out ways to subsidize your art practice if necessary along the way. Entering the art world with a long-game strategy of persisting is key.