Ruth Baumgarte’s Sketchbooks

Sant Pere Pescador, 1982
India ink on paper, 24,1 x 18 cm

Not a Day without a Line! This artistic motto, that Paul Klee found for his late and extensive drawing work, could also be an adequate description for Ruth Baumgarte’s passion for Spain’s landscape, architecture, and narration culture. On her journeys to Northern Spain, numerous artistic ‘snapshots’ were created outdoors. Almost every sheet is dated, so that her intense creative period during the 1980s is still tangible today.

Next to colourful watercolours, this small-format sheet from April 1, 1982 can be found. The artist portrays the standalone palm tree together with the agave and a couple of young plants in Ampurdán, the fertile hinterland of the Costa Brava. Using only a few yet precise lines, she explores the peculiar form and structure in a way that does not – as is so often the case in art history – characterise the tall plant as a symbol of the exuberant beauty of the Mediterranean south. Rather, the plant’s leaves appear dishevelled by the wind and parched by the sun. In her drawing of the palm tree, Ruth Baumgarte illustrates the not-as-perfect side of nature and, in this sense, draws an analogy to human marginal existence, which she continuously explores in her works.

Open-Air Atelier Spain

Cold Day (On the Way to Requesens), 1982
India ink on paper, 16,8 x 22,9 cm

On her journeys of discovery in Northern Spain, nature becomes an open-air atelier for Ruth Baumgarte. Travelling light – carrying a small camp chair, coffee mug, sketchpad, watercolour paint and different drawing pencils and brushes – she goes on hikes. On her way to Requesens Castle on March 30, she spontaneously sits down and captures a farmstead almost hidden by trees. She later collects these drawings in her Spanisches Skizzenbuch (Spanish Sketchbook).

The rapid increase in her work around 1980 is the result of the reorganisation of her private as well as her professional life. Her gallery Das Fenster (The Window), which she has been in her hands in the smallest of spaces since 1975, has become an indispensable anchor in the mediation of the regional Bielefeld art scene. However, she heaves a sigh of relief when it closes in 1982. Because she let slide of her own artistic work and, as she states in an interview focussed on this period of time, she could “not always paint portraits”, with which she, among others, funded her operations at the gallery.

The works for the Spanisches Skizzenbuch (Spanish Sketchbook) therefore stand for an important turning point in her work – the artist “draws herself free”, so to speak. Here, she prepares ideas, motifs, and topics, such as wide landscape views, which will play an important role in later series of works, for example her Africa cycle.

Open-Air Atelier Spain II

Sant Pere Pescador, 1981
India ink on paper, 18 x 24 cm

Brush or pencil, rough or fine drawing paper? Depending on which motifs and weather conditions Ruth Baumgarte encounters on her hikes through Northern Spain, she chooses one or the other drawing instrument from her bag. On her discovery tours, she also explores the areas surrounding the town of Sant Pere Pescador; a small town located charmingly in-between a rocky stretch of coast, the Golf de Roses, and the already visible foothills of the Pyrenees.

With pointed ink pen, she drafts a rural situation by the wayside on the smaller sheet of paper: an estate with a garden and a group of houses. The wall appears weather-beaten. A ball-crowned gate still radiates a stately flair, yet right next to it, loose wood panels stretch into the air. The artist furthermore breaks with the all-too-romantic view of her viewers onto the Spanish village by placing a power pole on the right and including television antenna in the supposed idyll.