Visitors to the exhibit titled The Ocean World of Ivy Rittenhouse, at Gallery 208, will view works of art created by an individual whose history, temperament and career are rooted in the sciences. Logic might suggest that science and the arts are opposites, yet they are aligned in many ways — both careers attempt to comprehend and communicate something about the world around us.
Opening June 8, the exhibit was created by a chemist whose mind is filled with complex data and knowledge about the “identification of the substances of which matter is composed; the investigation of their properties, and the ways in which they interact, combine, and change to form new substances.” As an artist, Rittenhouse effortlessly communicates the essence and possibilities of our biosystem in ways we do not normally see. Through the mediums of watercolor and alcohol inks on paper, we are to experience the subjects which inspire the artist.
After earning a degree in chemistry from Eastern New Mexico University, for 30+ years Rittenhouse has been the laboratory operations manager in the Department of Chemistry at Fayetteville State University. Having knowledge and interest in the oceans, one of Rittenhouse’s most recent assignments was maintaining “The REEF” at Fayetteville State University. (The REEF is one of the few places in Central North Carolina for visitors to see coral reefs and reef organisms.)
Ask her anything about a healthy ocean ecosystem, and we will hear Rittenhouse’s explanations about coral life and the abundance of sea creatures dependent upon its structure. Through her gifts as an artist, we are able to observe the aquatic world in a new way. Best described by the words of Amanda Thompson (in her article titled “Making a Place: Art a Multi-Modal, Multi-Disciplinary Approach”), Rittenhouse’s images are “wordless explorations of place that allow for the intersection of imagination … alternative ways of encountering, experiencing and responding to the complexities” of nature.
Rittenhouse is the quintessential example of “there is no set path for someone to become an artist.” For Rittenhouse it was the result of an active outdoor life of scuba diving, riding horses and being an “outdoors person” that came to an unexpected, dramatic and painful halt. The arts became a type of therapy, a recovery.
Rittenhouse shared the story of how she became an artist and the incidents that changed her life. “During 2011 and 2015 I was given an antibiotic, in the fluoroquinolone family, after surgery. The first adverse drug reaction (ADR) was misdiagnosed. It was the second ADR that destroyed my joints and tendons resulting in a right hip replacement, tendon repair and years of physical therapy.”
“Just for something to do during my recovery, I started using colored pencils to fill in the pictures of horses in adult coloring books. Suffering from pain, I was living in a dark place in my mind, so I used bright colors to offset the darkness. I later framed the pictures and gave some to my doctors and friends and was told that I was particularly good with colors and should put away the coloring books and start painting for myself. So I did. I began with watercolors, then moved on to alcohol inks, and I’m currently working with acrylics. The bright and stunning colors are comprised of elements, and the paint allows me to interpret the images in my head into art, both chemistry and artwork hand in hand.”
Rittenhouse is modest. When I saw her colorful framed works hanging in her office at Fayetteville State, I immediately knew I wanted to share her creative works and her story with the public. Her first one-person exhibit demonstrates her natural skills, talent and aesthetic relationship to oceans. It is also a story about perseverance.
A natural colorist, Rittenhouse brings her sensitivity and observation of colors to her creative work. Perhaps her earliest appreciation of color and its influence was growing up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, famously known as the Land of Enchantment. While her father, a physicist, worked at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (later changed to Los Alamos National Laboratory), Rittenhouse stated she spent her “free time horseback riding through the canyons, admiring the beautiful azure blue skies, the rusty color of the clay mesas, the picturesque and polarizing landscape. The turquoise and silver jewelry in the region is prevalent — the turquoise stones varying from sky blue to a paler sky blue, greenish blue, or pale green, depending on the quantities of iron and copper within each stone.”
The experiences of color while growing up in New Mexico, her love of oceans, and her interest in scuba diving have all influenced her fascination and appreciation for color. Whether it is the vibrant colors you would see in the aquariums at “The REEF,” or while scuba diving, Rittenhouse has experienced the spectacles of color and uses those memories to evoke an essence of beauty and harmony in aquatic environments.
In Rittenhouse’s paintings, we see intense colors first but also sense the perpetual movement of water — a harmonious water environment and its life forms are present. In her “Ocean Blue Series,” blues and earth colors remind us of abstracted shorelines or what might be just under the surface of crashing waves. Sea dragons and goldfish swim with ease in reflected and refracted light-sourced environments.
Rittenhouse has chosen to paint something she is passionate about. It is that passion that continues to inspire and stimulate her creativity. Through the mediums of watercolor and alcohol inks, she is able to express her emotions for the subjects she chooses to paint. Even though Rittenhouse’s work is a creative and interpretative approach to color and form, a glimpse into biodiversity appears
in the way the artist uses colors, shapes and sea life in their watery environment.
Rittenhouse invites us to look at what is overlooked. We are moved to feel what she has experienced — a wonderous, vigorous and harmonious ecosystem filled with an array of bright colors and constant movement. The rhythm of tides can be experienced through the artists’ use of patterns of color and passages of light. Even in her small works, we become immersed and float just beneath the surface of a watery and shifting place.
It was not by accident The Ocean World of Ivy Rittenhouse opens on June 8. Rittenhouse is a naturalist and an activist who is highly aware of how the coral reefs are being damaged by ocean acidification, so it was appropriate for her first one-person exhibition to open on this day — World Oceans Day.
World Oceans Day was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2008 to raise awareness about the role of the United Nations and international law in the sustainable use of the oceans and their living and non-living resources.
World Oceans Day was established to remind everyone of the importance and major roles the oceans have on planet Earth and sustainability.
Gallery 208 celebrates Ivy Rittenhouse as an artist who not only appreciates and understands our biosphere but is able to successfully share and express her experiences of water and water life with others through the discipline of art making. Her body of work is a celebration of our aquatic ecosystem, its stunning beauty, and also its mysteries.
The public is welcome to meet the artist during the opening of The Ocean World of Ivy Rittenhouse between 5:30 and 7 p.m. on June 8. The exhibit will remain in Gallery 208 until Aug. 15.
Gallery 208 is located at 208 Rowan Street in Fayetteville, and is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For information call 910-484-6200.