Paper is in Donna Ruff’s DNA. Her great-grandfather was a bookbinder; her grandparents owned a scrap-paper company. As a child, she played with the taped pages of old books her grandmother gave her, learning to appreciate the subtle beauty of the old and discarded.
She graduated with an art degree from the University of Miami in Florida, became a children’s book illustrator in New York City, and earned an MFA from Rutgers University, where she studied papermaking. She became intrigued with using paper as an art material, rather than making art on its surface.
The Miami Beach resident has exhibited at the Art14 fair in London, MASS MoCA, and the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. Earlier this year, her work appeared in group exhibitions at Central Booking gallery in New York and San Francisco’s Fog Design+Art fair.
Using an X-Acto knife and burning tools, Ruff cuts and singes paper, removing small areas. What remains are intricate designs that, on closer inspection, reveal secondary patterns of negative space.
She works mainly with discarded newspapers, often the front page of the New York Times. When she chose the page that became 2.23.13, she says, “I was intrigued by the portrait of President Obama printed in black and white,” which is unusual for the paper. “The pose is pensive but heroic.”
Ruff uses digital templates to make the geometric patterns, an interest indirectly influenced by her Jewish upbringing. (Religious texts bar the use of the figure.) “Ultimately,” Ruff says, “all my work can be traced back to my interest in books and texts.”