Night Swimming

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Recede by Betsy Ruth Byers

72″ x 72″, oil on canvas

Betsy Ruth Byers recalls fondly from her youth the trips to the family cabin on Lake Aaron. She remembers her mother waking Betsy and her two older sisters in the night, and leading them carefully down the steps in the dark to the lake for a swim. It was an ethereal, otherworldly experience – to be floating in a void, not able to tell where your body ends and the water begins.

Over the years those swims became a ritual, and now they are also a source of inspiration for Byers’ abstract paintings.

There’s so much to explore within that experience. It’s a specific moment that I can draw from, that I can play with… a sort of microcosm. I’m preoccupied with our bodies – how they relate to or remember space – and how abstract painting can grapple with those things. The paintings are not an homage or a tribute, but serve more as a first step in drawing those memories out, and triggering similar memories in viewers.

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Disjuncture by Betsy Ruth Byers

72″ x 72″, oil on canvas

Byers’ paintings – the subject of a solo exhibition opening this weekend at Burnet Gallery in downtown Minneapolis – are filled with the rich blues and greens of deep lake water. The elements of her childhood memories – the steps down to the dock, the cabin, the refracting light on the water – are all there, floating in the void as though caught in slow-motion, mid-explosion, broken apart by her receding memory.

Many of the canvases are six feet wide and equally high, inviting the viewers to lose themselves in their own watery memories. Byers, who teaches painting at several Twin Cities campuses, says while night swimming was the inspiration for her paintings, she doesn’t feel it’s key to know that in order to appreciate the rich geometric imagery. Instead she hopes her work inspires others to think about how their own bodies move through space, and their own physical memories.

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Erode by Betsy Ruth Byers

48″ x 48″, oil on canvas

Byers works in a small studio space in Minneapolis, surrounded by several canvases that she paints in tandem, sometimes over the course of an entire year. While much of her work appears dark blue or green, she sometimes starts with a canvas that is candy apple red in order to keep her color in perspective. But after months upon months of layering paint, the red is all but lost.

Byers admits she sounds like a romantic, because she’s constantly striving to do something she knows is impossible – to convey a precise feeling through images.

The appeal is the constant questions – never being able to solve something, but being so close. Painting for me is always about getting somewhere visually. It’s a vision I’m trying to communicate or express.

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Suppress by Betsy Ruth Byers

48″ x 48″, oil on canvas

Byers’ exhibition of paintings, titled “Elsewhere,” opens tomorrow night at Burnet Gallery in Le Méridien Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, with a reception from 6-9pm. The show runs through March 6.

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