Ruth Smoking 1 is the first in a series of portraits of the subject, Ruth, smoking, by Julian Opie from 2006. The print is a three-quarter length portrait of a woman who looks out to the viewer, cigarette in hand and her shirt open to show her underwear. Rendered in Opie’s graphic style, characteristic of his work during the mid-2000s, the figure is contoured with thick, bold lines and her features are defined by a few marks.
Opie’s portraits engage with longstanding ideas that have characterised this art historical genre by questioning what intrinsic elements are needed to convey a person’s character. Ruth Smoking 1 presents the viewer with the absolute minimum by which the subject can be recognised, with buttons for eyes, two lines for a mouth, and the image created with flat, block colours.
Ruth Smoking 1 is representative of Opie’s strong interest in Ukiyo-e, a genre of Japanese woodblock prints from the 18th and 19th centuries that often depicted female beauties not meant for exhibition. Opie’s particular interest in Ukiyo-e artist Kitagawa Utamaro comes through in these portraits of Ruth, notably explaining that, "[Utamaro’s] models were radically cropped close up, the faces were very simply drawn, in some ways always very similar, but with great presence and individuality."