Body work

As the walls of the Steynberg Gallery come alive with Joanne Beaule Ruggles' work, art by those who have had brushes with death shares the space.

Ruggles' show, "Mapping the Body," consists of her most recent drawings and paintings: men and women's bodies still or in motion, clothed and unclothed, full of color or starkly black and white.

But it's the simultaneous show, created for the project "Indomitable Spirits Giving Face/Voice to Courage" that Ruggles feels the strongest about.

During a nine-month gestation period, Ruggles worked with a dozen or so members of the art community to create visual stories about life's challenges. The art is also about survival.

Hearing people's heartbreaking stories and learning of their courage affected her deeply, Ruggles said. "It's been one of the most touching experiences I've had in my life."

Ruggles says that some of the events are enough to crush most people, while others go through the same situations and are fueled by them.

Anne Gill Kellogg joined the project just a couple of months after her daughter was run over by a semi-truck. The resulting work of art is titled "Sarah Is Dead."

Most of the pieces in the show were group projects by two or more members. Ruggles describes her role as "the orchestra leader or the editor." She is also one of the artists.

After Ruggles encouraged the group to add to her own work, she realized she had to "walk the walk" when she nervously noticed someone was augmenting "Ring! Ring! Wakeup Call." When she saw Jesse Bilsten's touches of red paint on the black-and-white collage, she realized it was perfect.

"It added so much to my work," she acknowledges. "That was the point of the collaboration."

Others in the project whose loved ones died or who had their own close calls are Julia Alexis, Dick DeLong, Julie Frankel, Becky Geddes, Angela Heninger, Ethel Landers, Erin Partridge, Caro Pendergast, Andrea Raft, Ann Ream and Lesa Smith.

Ruggles, a retired Cal Poly professor of art and design, has been honing her artistic skills for four decades. Her involvement with the Indomitable Spirits project was possible through an Art Inspires! Grant that ARTS Obispo awarded on behalf of the SLO Community Foundation and James Irvine Foundation.