Ruby Silvious in Ronda. Photo © snobb.netRonda in southern Spain has attracted artists of all kind throughout the centuries, such as Hemingway, Rilke, and Orson Wells. The town’s dramatic views are still an inspiration for painters, filmmakers, writers and of course social media gurus. To put it simply – Ronda is a very Instagram-able spot.
My husband and I have enjoyed visits from artist friends before, but I was nothing short of thrilled when I heard that Ruby was coming to town. Now, you might not know Ruby, and to be honest, I hadn’t met her either when she asked if I would be kind enough to show her our ‘city of dreams’. “But of course,” I said, not knowing how my ‘blind date’ with this talented mystery woman would unfold.
A few years back, I was organizing Andalucía’s first recycled art competition here in Ronda. New York based artist Ruby Silvious saw my online ‘Call To Artists’ and contacted me about participating. I was thrilled of course, so she packed up some of her lovely hand-tinted lanterns made from used teabags and shipped them to Andalucía. After the exhibit in Ronda’s Palacio Santo Domingo, her art was donated to Ronda’s city hall, where we can only hope that the present local government still keep them on proud display.
Ruby and I have kept in contact ever since our first ‘meeting’. When I congratulated her on the launch of her beautiful coffee-table book 363 Days of Tea in 2016, she introduced me her publisher, Mascot Books. Now the same publisher is helping me issue my first novel later this year. It’s a small world indeed.
Most artists make their work on canvas or paper. Some choose less traditional art matters, such as Christo’s island wrapping or Jeff Koon’s behemoth dog made out of flowers. But art is certainly not all about volume. It can be any size, shape and any material the artist sees fit. So why not used teabags?
The thing about tea is that it usually brings us memories. Even for myself, who come from a culture where tea is ingested without much ceremony, it still leaves a feeling of a ritual of sorts. Art echoes experiences and emotions we have had in the past, and depends on these memories for us to give it meaning. The culture of tea drinking, therefore, can be wonderful transportive medium to use in visual arts.
With her Asian family background, Ruby’s art perfectly reflects the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, an aesthetics where beauty might be described as imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.
Born in the Philippines before settling in New York, with Chinese, Japanese and Filipino ancestry, Ruby certainly has the cultural melting pot thing down right. Though she studied architecture and graphic design, she is a fine artist through and through. As a young girl, she learned the Japanese art of origami from her maternal great grandmother and was so good at copying her father’s calligraphy that her college commissioned her to make their graduation diplomas when she was only 12.
What puts Ruby’s art apart is the unique effect of the sepia coloured stains and the way that the paper of each teabag absorbs whatever colour medium added in seemingly unpredictable ways.
Ruby’s themes vary from delicate botanics and bold abstracts, to travel motifs, fashion subjects, portraits and general scenes of life as seen by the artists. Every idea is shrunk into miniature format, then, meticulously and beautifully transported onto a used teabag.
Most of Ruby’s teabags get to keep their tail and tag. Though the bags might appear randomly paired up with the artwork, Ruby choses each teabag with outmost care. However, reused teabags aren’t her only medium. She also paints on natural elements, such as eggshells, acorns and pistachio nuts.
Ruby’s openness to new mediums and innovative re-use always surprises. When she started using Starbucks crumb wrappers and paper bread bags to make bras for her Ori-BRA-mi series, the NY art community got to see found and recycled art brought to a whole new level!
But bras aside, back to Ruby’s visit to Ronda. What was it that particularly struck this artist about our little town?
A Room with a View
Traveling from an artist-in-residence workshop near Barcelona, Ruby had booked a room in Hotel Don Miguel. The hotel is located immediately beside Ronda’s famous Puente Nuevo. In fact, it sits on the exact spot where the former police station used to be way back in the times when the chamber of the bridge’s central arch used to be a prison. With this as a background vista, Ruby certainly had a room with a view.
Ruby later told me she had taken “a gazillion photos for reference”, since this was her initial impression of the town. On her first morning back in her Hudson Valley home in NY, she started sketching the view at 4 am. (What else is one to do when one has a jetlag?)
The hidden alleys
Ruby said that other places in Europe are delightfully charming, but admitted that “Ronda is hands-down enchanting!” She loved the patina and gritty beauty of the narrow streets our Andalusian town.
Here is her latest astonishing teabag!
Needing a break from wandering the streets, we stopped at a deli on a side street in Barrio San Francisco called Trinidad. Here, the locals in our ‘hood’ go here to buy their Iberian ham, local goat cheese, oil, nuts, anís licor etc. One can, of course, like we did, perch oneself on a spindly bar stool by a wine barrel table and have Miguel Ángel the owner open a bottle of local Chinchilla wine, instead.
Life on the edge
For Ruby, like for most artists, the light for photography is always best at the bookend hours of the day.
We took Ruby on a morning walk along Ronda’s cliffed edge or Tajo. The dried straws and petrified flowers hanging on for bare life seemed to awe our visitor more than the more than 100 metre drop and the fertile valley below. Granted, Ruby is not very fond of chasms, so she probably preferred to focus on the closer details instead.
Arches and tiles
At Palacio Mondragon, visitors can admire some of the Mozárabe architecture that makes Andalucía so unique. What struck our artist friend here were the open Arab style courtyards, the garden, and overgrown and moss covered terracotta roof tiles of the old palace turned museum.
A Classic Andalusian home
The vast majority of tourists coming to Ronda will only see a bullring, a bridge and an ugly bus station. Going sightseeing with us ‘nearly-natives’, we ran into our friend Concha, who kindly invited us to come and see her beautifully restored, antique-filled home. A rare and special treat indeed!
On the last night of her brief Ronda stay, we suggested that we go to Hotel Victoria, where Rainer Maria Rilke wrote some of his famous poems. Sipping a cup of thematically appropriate tea on the open terrace overlooking the sierra while watching the sunset, we couldn’t have had a nicer end to a day of exploring our own town with the eye of an artist.
Adios Ruby, or Hasta pronto. We will hopefully see you soon again in Ronda or in the Big Apple.
Ruby Silvious work has been exhibited in North America, Europe and Asia. She is presently preparing a solo exhibit in Chigasaki, Japan, including her full-size kimonos made of hundreds of recycled and carefully hand-tinted teabags. (I am saving up to buy this one for our bedroom…)
For more information, go to www.rubysilvious.com