The creation of art is an alchemical process of transforming chaos into coherence.
The International Settlement in Shanghai was neutral ground during World War ll and it was there that RubyLee's mother, who was of Japanese and English descent, met and married her father, F.X. Long. A journalist by profession, he had grown up in cosmopolitan circumstances as the son of Austrian Leopoldini Rössler and Chinese magician Long Tack Sam. In the early 1900’s, Long Tack Sam was one of the brightest stars of Vaudeville, topping the bill at New York’s Palace Theater and touring the world with his exotic troop of acrobats.
Ruby was born in Hong Kong in 1948, the first of four children and traveled with her family to Japan, eventually setting sail for Western Europe through the Suez Canal to Marseille and onto Vienna. In 1956, her father landed a position with Reuters News Agency in London and it was in England where her formal education began. She inherited her talent for the Visual Arts from her mother and has been drawing ever since she could hold a pencil. She won an academic scholarship to a French convent school and, determined to further her craft, took extra curricula life drawing classes. After completing an Advance Level course in Art History, she was awarded a Foundation Scholarship to St. Martin’s School of Art in the center of London, where she spent much of her time at The National Gallery with the old masters of the High Italian Renaissance. Her focus was on the emotional content and gestures of the human form; idealistic figures rendered with beauty and grace. At Art School, her drawing skills were already above average and a yearning for spiritual growth began to surface. It was the 1960’s and she was enjoying the company of bohemian beat poets, painters, sculptors, photographers, art house filmmakers, and musicians. Looking through the books of a second hand bookstore in London's Soho district, she noticed a bright yellow little book entitled “Karma and the Law of Cause and Effect”. In the popular art world, Andy Warhol was making statements with multiple images of Campbell Soup cans, John Cage was being heralded in the music of the avant-garde, and Yoko Ono was climbing naked in and out of plastic bags at the Arts Lab. Her formative definitions of art were being challenged and she decided to leave the British Isles in search of the wisdom of the East that she had glimpsed in that tiny yellow book. The principal at St. Martin’s wished her well on her quest for illumination and reminded her to return the book on Leonardo Da Vinci to the school library.
In an after hours Chelsea restaurant called Muffins, Anthony Summers, now author then journalist on BBC’s 24 Hours, bought one of her first oil paintings entitled "Angie". With this £40 sale, she left her few worldly possessions, including paints and portfolio, with a reliable high school friend, donned a colorful Tibetan blanket, packed an extra pair of blue jeans and her passport into a hand woven bag and embarked for the great unknown with a huge sense of adventure and armed with only a sketchbook and pencils. In Greece, she boarded a steamer headed for the Middle East with thoughts of traveling overland to Katmandu by drawing quick portraits of faces that she saw in cafés along the way to pay for room and board. However, in Jerusalem, influenced by the music of the times and experimenting with mind expanding substances, she was introduced to the posters of San Francisco’s psychedelic artists and to Stanley Kubrick’s iconic imagery of death and rebirth in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey". This convergence of events led to a spiritual awakening and her course was redirected to the USA.
Arriving in New York City in 1969, she made her way across country to the coast of Northern California where she became enamored of the gentle flower children and the movement to return to Native American tribal ways, with a reverence for the sacredness of the natural world and an understanding of the web of life.
In 1972, in San Francisco’s North Beach, an energetic man with piercing dark eyes, took her by the hand. His opening line was "Let’s do a painting together!" He painted sumi-like landscapes on a white canvas using bold, broad brushstrokes. Neither of them signed any of their canvases until the vice president of Walt Disney Productions wanted to buy one of their joint paintings in Ojai and insisted upon a signature. Whereupon, Ruby signed both Popo and RubyLee and a myth was born.
In fact, they painted on only two or three canvases together. Rather Popo began to groom her talent, direct the imagery, and assume the role of business manager. They collaborated on countless paintings for the next ten years. She describes this early work under the influence of Popo’s technique of thin oil washes in fast, loose, spontaneous strokes, as sketches in oil paint. Avidly painting three or four canvases a day like a musician practicing scales, she would, over time, refine her brushstrokes and subtly augment the colors of her palette. She worked with models, teaching them Yoga and Tai Chi, while her love for Zen, a white Arabian horse, produced some magnificent paintings of horses. Although the physical models were the Andalusian stallions of Hollywood’s Budd Boetticher, it was her beloved horse Zen who inspired her as she took the reins of her own life while the relationship with Popo dissolved.
It was the mid-eighties and Wavy Gravy, clown prince of the counterculture, found her exhibiting her work at an Earth Day Festival. Out of this meeting emerged a huge portrait of his face, which was subsequently used as the centerpiece of a Rock ‘n’ Roll poster designed by Alton Kelley, one of the five major Fillmore Poster Artists of the sixties, and chronicled by Paul Grushkin in "The Art of Rock". David Crosby, of Crosby Stills Nash and Young, upon purchasing the original portrait at a show in Santa Fe, New Mexico, declared: "the painting looks more like Wavy than Wavy!" The galleries and art dealers who had handled her work for the past fifteen years were calling for her to continue painting indian maidens with headbands. Refusing to repeat her imagery, she withdrew from the marketplace and lived the life of a stereotypical starving artist with the modest support of art patrons and benefactors and sustained by a loving village community.
In 1993, Dmitri Stroganov, a Russian muralist, was brought to her door. Here was an artist who was traditionally trained in St.Petersburg with a high standard of excellence in the arts and an understanding of synæsthesia - creating sound with visuals and visuals with sound. She valued his discerning eye and sense of design. He was in awe of her ability to paint the human figure and she invited him into her studio where, during the next four years, she worked on twenty archetypal figures based on the Mayan calendar that were interwoven with his geometric lines and shapes. From Dmitri, she learned to create musical arrangements through color and composition by seeing on another level.
At the turn of the twenty first century, her work returned to an elegant simplicity -- the gestures ever graceful; the flesh tones luminescent; the emotional content transcendent. The style, like her heritage, is a synthesis of Western Classical form and the aesthetic sensibilities of the Far East.
In 2008, her role as a fine art painter came to an end. Decades of painting tiny brushstrokes had taken its toll on her painting arm, forcing her to lay her brushes down. However, as a conduit for the unstoppable flow of creative energy, it became imperative that she find a new medium. Undaunted, she enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and made the transition from still images to moving images by graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Motion Pictures and Television. With her crossover to the Cinematic Arts, she reclaimed her family name Long and changed the Cantonese spelling of Lee to the Mandarin Li. Thus Ruby Li Long.
Equipped with a thorough understanding of every element of filmmaking and having developed a sharp eye and a keen ear, she was passionate about Post Production--both picture and sound editing. It became evident that to succeed in the movie business, she would have to move to Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world. This called for another leap of faith! From a contemplative solitary painter who communed with Nature in a rarified rural atmosphere, she plunged into the corporate culture of a major Motion Picture studio: Warner Bros.
To be continued...