Artist and graphic designer Ruby Silvious had already been experimenting with painting on recycled materials – pistachio shells and eggshells, to name two – when one day she eyed the remains of her morning cup of tea. “Hmm,” she thought, “tea bags…”
Now the results of her yearlong project using emptied-out tea bags from her daily cup as small canvases for mixed-media works will be on exhibit at the Greene County Council on the Arts (GCCA) Catskill Gallery in Catskill. “Tea and Alchemy: Ruby Silvious Solo Show” opens this Saturday, January 16, with an artist’s reception the following week on Saturday, January 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. The show remains on view through February 27.
As the People’s Choice Award-winner for the GCCA’s juried competition, “40 Years/40 Artists,” recognizing the 40th anniversary of the arts organization, Silvious was selected to exhibit works from her 2015 project, “363 Days of Tea.” There’s nothing magical about the number “363,” she says; it just happened that she committed herself to creating a tea-themed artwork every day of 2015 beginning on January 3. (You know how those New Year’s resolutions go; it sometimes takes a few days to get them started.)
The other part of the project involved posting the art every day on social media. It was her first experiment with social media, Silvious says, and as it turned out, the effort was successful. “I opened an Instagram account and said, ‘Let’s just see.’ I knew I wanted to do a tea-themed project, but just couldn’t decide how to do it. On the third day of the year, I was sitting in a coffeeshop in New York City, so I posted a picture of my cup of tea and whatever I was eating. That was ‘Day One,’ and it took off from there: I got ten ‘likes’ the first day and I was ecstatic. ‘Wow! I was really not expecting an audience.’”
Silvious began posting daily photographs of tiny paintings that she’d done on tea bags the year prior. That slowly evolved into creating one new artwork on a tea bag each day. She began to gain a small following, but it wasn’t until the end of October when she was featured on the ArtistsInspireArtists.com website that things really took off. “I had absolutely no idea what going viral meant until that day. It was crazy! It’s amazing how the Web works.”
Picked up by one blog after another, Silvious soon began to get e-mails on a daily basis requesting permission to publish her images and requests for interviews from media including the UK’s The Guardian and Hungary’s Radio Budapest. Her work has been published in Japan and China. And the number of followers on her Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr pages continues to increase exponentially, with some of her fans even sending her photographs of their own artwork made with recycled tea bags.
Currently working on a coffeetable book of 363 Days of Tea, Silvious is continuing the project in 2016 as “52 Weeks of Tea,” with it being a little more manageable to create one work per week rather than one every day. “My goal when I first started this project was to see if I had the discipline to actually paint something every day,” she says, “but it’s challenging.” Small as the artworks are, it still requires effort to make one every day – especially since her full-time job as a graphic designer means that she usually creates the tea bag works at night as a sort of therapeutic wind-down from work.
After she drinks her tea in the morning, she empties the bag of its contents and leaves it on a paper towel to dry. Some bags are opened up and worked on flat, the shape becoming an elongated rectangle with torn edges, while others are emptied without dismantling the structure of the bag, leaving the tag and staple intact. Silvious began the project using bags from the tea that she normally drinks, but soon found herself the recipient of a variety of tea bags donated by friends and family. Each brand has its unique paper tag, which often becomes part of the finished works.
As a mixed-media artist, Silvious used many different approaches to the project, including putting some through a printing press and drawing or collaging over the image. There was no particular theme to the subject matter, she says; it runs the gamut from scenes of everyday life to her travels in Europe last year – one sketched out en plein air while standing in front of the Eiffel Tower – to random paintings of fashion or topical images, like one made recognizing 9/11 and another about the Paris terrorist attacks. Friends and family show up in some, and bits of architectural detail; Silvious studied architecture in her native Philippines before moving to New York City in 1977. She moved up to the mid-Hudson region in 1986 and currently lives in Coxsackie.
The GCCA Catskill Gallery is also opening “Ten Artists: One Group Show” this Saturday, featuring Richard Armstrong, Lauren Simkin Berke, Dot Chast, Allen Grindle, Eva Melas, Giselle Potter, Kate Hamilton, Jim Krewson, Amy Siberkleit and Jersey Walz. Each artist created one work each, reproduced as a print edition of five for the juried exhibition. The show also has its opening reception next Saturday, January 23, with the exhibit running through February 27.
“Tea and Alchemy: Ruby Silvious Solo Show,” January 16-February 27, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, 12 noon-5 p.m., artist reception, Saturday, January 23, 5-7 p.m., free, GCCA Catskill Gallery, 398 Main Street, Catskill; (518) 943-3400, www.greenearts.org.