Betsy Ruth Byers Captures Fleeting Moments for "Indeterminate Present"

The abstract paintings of Betsy Ruth Byers have a firm connection to colorful recollections, bodily senses, and vast spaces. Each piece is a vibrant record of moments registered. "Indeterminate Present" is her first solo exhibition since 2010. The show expands on concepts she explored in college. Byers graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2008 with her master's thesis centering on abstraction subject to the environment, a topic that she's still delving into today.

The majority of her career up to this point has examined sensory-rich memories stemming from childhood visits to her cabin, nestled in northern Minnesota. Byers's mother would sometimes wake her up in the middle of the night to go swimming in a lake nearby.

"I was interested in working with abstract painting to find these moments and slippages between body and space, and how we realize our own body in its sensory quality," she says. "So I was digging for some personal experience that was just this really heightened, intense thing that I can pull from. For me, that's swimming."

The scope of Byers's work has since expanded, and "Indeterminate Present" marks a shift in subject and technique. Stepping into Byers's studio gives insight into how organized and methodical the artist's process is. Canvases hang perfectly level next to a shelf of books. Printed photographs of oceans dotted with islands are symmetrically taped beside paintings.

After spending time with the work, concrete horizons and landforms begin to manifest. The vivid colors don't amount to random smatterings of paint, but rather they serve as technicolor imaginings of glaciers and Polynesian islands that are disappearing.

"You have to be careful, because it's not a manifesto about climate change," she says. The printed photographs of evaporating glaciers and islands are not copied directly, but rather absorbed into the artist's mind with the same malleability as memories.

"For me, I think that it's the idea of losing a landscape also has to do with our memory, and our bodily memory, and how we're going to remember these things. So, I'm interested in those forms particularly because they're mutable and they're changing."

Byers's work has evolved considerably since her exploration of nights spent backstroking in northern Minnesota. The focus has shifted from the tangibility of recollection to the imaginative impermanence of disappearing landforms and memories.

"I still think about slipping underwater. What it feels like," Byers laughs as vapor curls up from her tea cup. "What it feels like to let go, be engulfed, and sort of lose something that you feel like you can hold on to but it's just slightly there."


"Indeterminate Present"
Saturday, January 10 through February 21
There will be an opening reception Saturday, January 17, from 7 to 10 p.m.
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Gallery hours are Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., and the first Thursday of the month from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.    
Studio 395, Northrup King Building                                       
1500 Jackson St. NE, Minneapolis