Meet the artists behind the exhibition, The Red Clay Survey: 2020 Exhibition of Contemporary Southern Art. Each week we will be featuring five of the artists included in this year’s exhibition.  A major recurring regional competition sponsored by the Huntsville Museum of Art , the Red Clay Survey “takes the pulse” of contemporary Southern art through a selection of work in all styles and media. This year’s exhibition includes 85 works by 67 different artists.

R. B. Pruett

Monroe, GA

Necessary Friction, 2018 acrylic and cannibalized painting parts on canvas, 39 x 30.5 in.

Artist Statement

I’m interested in organic forms and the reconstruction and cannibalization of my paintings to produce new images. I feel the need for continual physical and metaphorical deconstruction of my paintings as I deal with personal failures, current social, political issues, and the onslaught of contemporary art.  I am interested in the layered and amorphous qualities of paint that accentuate the tactile sense of vision. There is movement and tension, an internal force that pulls things toward figuration.

For me painting is the primal impulse to mark.  It’s a visual record of the mind, the body, and the human spirit.  It’s about a need to both create and to destroy. Maybe it’s out of sheer frustration that I paint: maybe it’s out of a need to violate or to contradict, or possibly, it’s simply about the pure enjoyment of mark-making: maybe it’s the mystery that painting holds, either way, there is a strong feeling present and I feel compelled to react to this feeling.

​My work is a response to the physicality of painting, a love of materials, an appreciation of process, and to the seduction of surface. The paintings allude to the beauty of decay, to violation, and to vulnerability. They are excavations, a conglomeration of surfaces layered with a variety of materials. From these materials figurative images are often unearthed. They are surfaces that attempt to reveal a sense of time and a certain kind of depth, a depth that is both physical metaphorical through build up and layering as well as emotional depth through destructive scarring, removing and cannibalizing. In the end the works are about a search, a search for truth and a search for personal revelation through the act of painting.

R.B. Pruett

Debra Riffe

Birmingham, AL

St. Clair, 2019 woodcut, 34 x 26 in.

DEBRA EUBANKS RIFFE is a native of Tupelo, Mississippi. She earned her BFA from Howard University, College of Fine Arts, Washington, DC and has been a professional graphic designer and illustrator for more than thirty years. Debra lived abroad and traveled, extensively, around the Caribbean basin. Much of her time was divided between the northwestern seaport city of Barranquilla and the Department of La Guajira Peninsula located in the northeastern tip of Colombia, S.A. near the Venezuelan border. She participates in juried exhibitions, locally and regionally, and is the recipient of many awards including an Individual Artist Grant presented by The Cultural Alliance of Birmingham. Debra has studied under internationally renowned printmaker and illustrator Barry Moser and she participates in select workshops and classes around the country, biennially. Her block prints are included in many collections, both private and institutional, including the Freedom Rides Museum at the Historic Greyhound Bus Station (Montgomery, AL), Dillard University (New Orleans, LA), Athens State University (Athens, AL), Indian Springs School (Indian Springs, AL), the Bluff Park Association Permanent Collection (Hoover, AL), and at the National Historic Landmark 16th Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, AL), to name a few. Debra teaches linoleum block relief printing workshops several times a year.

While living abroad, Debra discovered a common set of experiences that parallel patterns found in the culture of the American South. Food, race, religious traditions and music are topics that continually shape her visual narratives. Her style varies from whimsy to historic. Debra enjoys the versatility and the immediacy of drawing with a pencil and the physicality of turning the wheel of a printing press. Through simplicity of form, she uses basic art principles to convey shape, gesture, attitude, movement and emotion. Her compositions, mostly figurative, are images of African Americans performing routine tasks in timeless, solitary reflective moments; tasks that speak of social status and identity, intimacy and a sense of place. Debra appreciates the ordinary and, within each print, she attempts to record details and subtle hallmarks that will stir an emotion the viewer might respond to. She works from memory, sketchbook drawings or from photo references culled from newspaper and magazine clippings. Occasionally, Debra will stage a photo shoot and select wardrobe and props designed to capture the angle and intensity of light and darkness, dramatic shadows or variations of patterns and folds on quilts or fabric. Once an edition is complete and numbered, Debra attempts to guide her viewers with a title based on dialect derived from features in southern speech. The elements of black vernacular are lyrical and layered and many times, when rooting around her favorite bar-b-que haunts or juke joints in Alabama and Mississippi, she will extract bits and pieces of random conversations that she has overheard or engaged in, with incredible eclectic patrons, and combine phrases or expressions into her titles. The titles of her finished prints are always written in lower case.

Although she was introduced to printmaking in college, Debra’s technical skills and methods have evolved through trial and error and she has become more adept at isolating concepts and refining forms. Printing with a single color allows for more spontaneity than mixing colors and layering in the reduction method. Debra enjoys the challenge of printing images with a rich, black oil-based ink. The contrasts of sharp black modulating lines on bright white archival printmaking paper gives each print an infinite range of tonal variations and texture. Carving wood or linoleum allows very little room for error but Debra enjoys the technical challenge of balancing intricate details and negative space.

Chiharu Roach

Birmingham, AL 

The Japamerican, 2020 acrylic on panel, 24 x 20 in.

Chiharu Roach is a Birmingham, AL artist known for her “Tangled Hair” portraits of females with animals and insects interwoven in the hair of the subject where each strand of hair is intricately painted with her custom tiny brushes.

Chi was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan and came to Birmingham in 2001 getting her art degree from the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

She uses animals to express the spiritual connection between humans and their range of behaviors and emotions. She paints each hair line as a prayer for her clients, future owners, and a special friend who is not with her anymore.

Elizabeth Russell

Birmingham, AL 

Passion’s Prey, 2020 ink on black Canson paper, 12 x 9 in.

“I am an American artist living in Prague, Czech Republic. My work draws on my childhood  in the deep South (Alabama) as well as my many years living in Prague, and seeks to combine the two disjointed histories with my own present experiences and observations. My paintings have always been narrative and colorful and I almost always work on black or dark grounds since 1983. I prefer to pull the light out of the shadows rather than the other way around. Recently, I have been playing with creating images that harken to old woodcuts, book illustrations and the crayon scratch-through drawings of my childhood. Using non-traditional mediums such as glitter, spray paint and embroidery, (which I learned from my mother), also ties the pieces to my childhood. I sometimes derive an image directly from a source, such as old photographs from WWI which I found on the street in Prague. Some images speak to me more than others and it is that voice that I seek to entwine in my own narratives and commentary. Other ideas come from my dreams and are triggered by a waking outside reference that becomes a symbol.  The concept of mortality also plays an important role in my work as I have become one of the caregivers to each of my parents in the last two years, dividing my time between two continents.

I have had exhibitions in the U.S. and Prague over the past 30 years which have included painting, photography, video and multi-media installations, and most recently, stop-animation films. My work has been shown in private galleries and public museums and is included in many private collections as well as the Krannert museum permanent collection in Champaign, Illinois where I attended the Graduate Program in Painting. Most recently, I have been included in a group exhibition entitled “Blue” which first opened in Huntsville, Alabama in 2017 and now is traveling with new work to Havana, Cuba for the January 2, 2019 opening.”

Karen Schwartz

Atlanta, GA

James Baldwin, 2017 mixed media and collage on linen, 72 x 72 in.

Karen Schwartz is an Atlanta-based artist working primarily in painting and drawing in a range of media. She has had solo exhibitions in New York and Atlanta, and she has exhibited in many group shows in the US and abroad. Her work is represented by Hathaway Contemporary Gallery in Atlanta and is an exhibited artist at Yours, Mine & Ours Gallery in NYC. Her 2015 solo exhibition at Life on Mars Gallery was reviewed in Hyperallergic, The New Criterion, Tilted Arc, Painter’s Table and The Huffington Post, and her work has been featured in a number of other publications as well. Schwartz has works in private and corporate collections, and one of her portraits was recently acquired by The New-York Historical Society for the launch of the institution’s new Women in History Center. A practicing clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Schwartz finds that these pursuits inform her artwork in fascinating, sometimes subconscious ways, and that her creative processes offer curious insights into her work in psychotherapy.