Bright colors and shapes fill the Encinitas Library's community room in a new show presented by a creative Leucadia couple.
Katherine Ruth-Bender and Robert Bender — of Karob Studios, a combination of the 28-year Leucadia duo's first names — present "The Story of Our Lives" through Aug. 7.
The show, which features 25 paintings by Ruth-Bender from over the last decade, is one of the couple's first public exhibitions since they welcomed their two children, who are now young adults.
Ruth-Bender said the work in the show is somewhat of an autobiography of the couple's lives.
"You paint what you know," she said. "I think I'm more of a formalist (working with shapes), and I like to figure out what fits into it rather than saying I'm going to paint a picture of a girl, for example. It changes as I'm trying to decide what is going on in my life and how chaotic it is. Some of the paintings can come out a little more chaotic."
One work, for example, features the dogs, fish and birds that have lived in the Bender household. Another, depicting a tornado, represents the "whirlwind" situations that life can sometimes create.
About 14 years ago, Ruth-Bender was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her painting arm. A surgeon was able to remove it, and after the surgery, she endured a year of chemo, radiation and uncertainty if she'd live to see her children grow up.
Her husband, who creates three-dimensional pieces, said that experience created a "quantum shift" in how the couple viewed their lives and approached them.
Ruth-Bender, who has been painting since she was a child, starts each work by drawing in black and white on paper. Then, she paints a representation of the work on larger pieces of paper or on canvas with bright colors. Each piece is a combination of shapes that depict certain ideas once colored in.
The key, Ruth-Bender said, is to not get boxed into an idea of how something should look. Sometimes the work can take on lives all their own, she said.
"Sometimes there's an image that I want to do, and it changes as I'm working and it will kind of evolve into what it wants to be," the artist said. "Sometimes I work with a sketch, which also changes because it never comes out exactly the way I want it. I just need to go with the shapes and the things that come out of them."
In addition to their shows, Ruth-Bender and her husband teach local elementary school children how to create art. At Capri Elementary, where their children attended decades ago, the couple assists sixth graders in creating self-portraits, which are then placed at the top of a building at the school.
The duo also regularly teaches classes in clay, paint and papier-mâché in their Leucadia studio.