African Landscape III, 1993, oil on cardboard, 137 x 98 cm
A continent as inspiration for her art
When Ruth Baumgarte resumed the travels she began in the 1950s, she was in the middle of her life. In her old age, the artist traveled to African countries over forty times over a period of 20 years, including Egypt, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa, often spending several weeks there. The intense colorful effect of nature on site deeply impressed Ruth Baumgarte and she now developed her very own expressive style, which ushered in a new colorism in her work. The landscape and people of this continent become the most important inspiration for her art.
Wherever she is, she observes people carefully, empathically empathizing with their respective life situations, with the battle between the sexes and the gender role of women as workers in the countryside. She is interested in foreign cultures on a continent that was still largely unexplored for European artists at the time. She documents what she sees and experiences - including the times of upheaval on the African continent - with on-site studies and processes the results in color-saturated oil paintings, virtuoso watercolors and drawings as soon as she returns to her studio in Germany. Formally and coloristically, Africa, with its light and its enormous color intensity, is for Ruth Baumgarte the emancipation of her painting from the Central European tradition and it is not surprising that her fascination heralds a turning point in her painting.
Port Elizabeth (African Study / Untitled), 1986, watercolor and pencil on paper, 40 x 30 cm
Ruth Baumgarte's motifs are not about depicting exotic magic or a glossing over view. The artist wants to communicate, not only to reproduce what is visible, but also to interpret it. She clearly shows her political stance on the explosive development of the political situation in drawings from 1986 to 1988. In Port Elizabeth (1986), the artist deals with the current events of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, such as the black workers' strike on the occasion of the 10th. Anniversary of the Soweto Uprising. From the 1990s onwards, he created large-format paintings. The light of the south always sends the artist into a frenzy of color; its energy is omnipresent, but in her landscape paintings she also makes the deep upheavals of this time through expulsion, flight and migration visible. The approximately 100 oil paintings, watercolors and drawings in the Africa cycle repeatedly depict the precarious existential living conditions for people in African countries.
The Gleaners II, 1988, charcoal and chalk on gray drawing paper, 60 x 74 cm
Women as emancipated individuals
Before Ruth Baumgarte switched entirely to oil painting in her Africa cycle, she made a group of charcoal, pastel drawings and watercolor sheets in the 1980s. In particular, she focuses on the woman as a worker in the countryside - but remarkably without any judgment within the images. The women appear as gleaners, weavers, collecting wood and corn on the cob, and in some works they also appear impressively in thoughtful situations. They become visible not only as part of a highly controlled social community, but also as self-determined, emancipated individuals who claim their own living and thinking space for themselves. These women embody Ruth Baumgarte's African vision. Her Africa cycle shows how far the artist is ahead of her time.