Friday, August 22, 2008

Art Space Talk: Paul Ruiz

Paul Ruiz studied Visual Arts at Melbourne University under artists David Thomas, Claire Day, John Neeson and Godwin Bradbeer. Paul was engaged in technology-driven projects for over ten years across several industries whilst deepening his continued fascination with the visual analysis, drawing and painting of the human figure. After launching his first solo exhibition in November 2005, Ruiz work found eager collectors in Australia and abroad whilst represented by Red Gallery and later Jenny Port Gallery. Currently the artist's work is showcased alongside prominent emerging and mid-career artists at the newly opened Lindberg Contemporary Art gallery based in Melbourne, Australia.

Saltimbanque, 2008, oil on linen, 20 x 15 cm

Brian Sherwin: Paul, you studied Visual Arts at Melbourne University under David Thomas, Claire Day, John Neeson and Godwin Bradbeer. Can you discuss your academic years and the influence said instructors had on you?

Paul Ruiz: Yes I had the privilege of learning from several respected Australian artists, but I am most indebted to these lecturers for their ability to challenge my preconceptions as an ambitious though frustrated youth. From Neeson and Day I received a solid grounding in studio methodology and practice, Bradbeer fueled my passion for studying the human form but from David Thomas I was challenged to re-think much of my work from a conceptual basis. I was sitting in my studio one night ready to pack the course in, forget the teaching degree and focus solely on art. David Thomas encouraged me to stick with it. He may never know it but David helped steer me through one of the darkest seasons in my life, feeling so directionless at times because I had never considered a career as an artist or teacher seriously. You may not always see eye to eye with your lecturers but when you still hear their voices years later, they made a difference, and that's all that counts to me.

I had some great supportive friends in the course, too, not all of them went on to practice art but the hunger was there to learn regardless and we took courage from each other because we were not taken so seriously by other art colleges - but none of that matters now I guess. It's what you do after that really counts.

Untitled Man, 2007, oil on linen, 38 x 30 cm

BS: You have exhibited in several Australian galleries, including, Red Gallery, Jenny Port Gallery, Yume Yah Gallery and the Lindberg Contemporary Art gallery. What can you tell us about the art scene in Australia… specifically in Melbourne?

PR: The Melbourne art scene is vigorous and thriving - this was confirmed by the success of the recently held Melbourne Art Fair which brought together over 80 national and international galleries. The quality and variety of the works on show reinforces the view that Melbourne is a significant cultural hub in the Asia Pacific region and I am proud to be living in it. It enables artists, represented or not, to network and be exposed to global currents and emerging or experimental practices.

Events like these help to dissolve Antipodean insecurities and perceptions of cultural isolation here in Australia. But this has begun happening more and more anyway, with the proliferation of online art communities which has for many artists enabled the show-casing of their art online and an exchange of ideas engaging both domestic and international audiences.

In broader sense too our key advocacy body, the National Association for the Visual Arts, is consistently lobbying at a governmental level on behalf of artists to ensure policy, legislation and advocacy continues to provide support mechanisms for artists. While there is no shortage of creative endeavor here in Australia, recent events such as the furore over Bill Hensons photography demonstrate that a broader cultural shift is required before the role of the artist can be said to be truly respected amongst the wider community.

Endangered Species Painting No.V, 2008, oil on linen, 38 x 30 cm

BS: Your portraits and figures seem to have a level of psychology about them… as if you are exploring the human condition with your process. Can you discuss your works and the motive behind them?

PR: My motive for beginning any work is intrigue. Intrigue about the human form, how it might be observed, remembered or imagined over time. Intrigue about how the form and subject will develop and mutate on the canvas, sometimes by will and sometimes by the materials used to make them. This change is integral not just to the work but to my experience and understanding of our human condition. I am both fascinated and somewhat frightened by it's unpredictable nature. We only need look around us to know that painting can continue to be a powerful response to the vagaries of life.

When engaged by the human figure as your subject, there are various mental, physical and emotional energies which need to be negotiated in the work. But I also firmly believe my art practice is informed by a metaphysical awareness, perhaps just the consciousness of depicting a vulnerable, living subject over an inanimate one - it is difficult for me to pin down but something which I try to remain sensitive to throughout the creative process.

I believe the works are ambiguous and suggestive enough for different states (be it psychological, emotional, material) to be perceived over time, and perhaps why the works can elicit such varied responses from people. For the most part, I don't set out to make psychological studies of specific people - if anyone's mental state is being disclosed it's usually my own.

BS: So what are the specific social implications of your art? Is there a specific message that you strive to convey to viewers?

PR: Before dedicating myself to full time practice, I spent nearly ten years working in a highly regulated, technology driven environment. I could not help but be affected by the growing extent to which our human relations and interactions are being mediated by technology. For me, being involved in the ritual and process of painting itself is a way of resisting this tendency of contemporary experience, of provoking a shift in the opposite direction - a shift from the generic, ephemeral and virtual nature of technology and media-saturated experience, to the specific, hand-crafted and material one of making and engaging in art.

I aim for my work to provoke reflection on the importance of this in our lives, to affirm that art making is not merely self-indulgence. I believe it is fundamentally linked to our capacity and need for a broader aesthetic, social and cultural awareness - I believe this to be quite an instinctive human aspiration.
Endangered Species Painting No. IV, 2008, oil on linen, 100 x 100 cm

BS: Tell us more about your painting process.. The methods and techniques that you utilize. Do you work from preliminary drawings or would you say that your work is very intuitive, so to speak?

PR: I often begin with source drawings, perhaps old life drawings or I will engage a model for series of new studies. I do not paint preliminary small scale versions of my works and prefer to map out a few options with charcoal first, photocopying and considering variations. I prefer a broad mental outline and then set to work, drawing with paint effectively and knocking back areas with a rag or palette knife as required. Sometimes the work is scraped right back or sanded back in areas to expose more of the ground. It sounds process-laden however I leave plenty of scope for instinct and intuition to drive changes and keep the painting alive.

I often photograph a painting throughout its development. This is a key tool used for reviewing and studying my paintings at a later date, usually towards the end of a painting where I can review the major shifts that have taken place and if required, make changes that will recharge the painting - a sort of defibrillation for work that has stopped dead in it's tracks.

BS: What attracted you to painting?

PR: I am obsessed with the ritual of painting. For me it is a practice which thrives on moments of observation, intimacy, reflection - quiet creative moments that are then counterbalanced by the destructive aspect of art making - the desperate uncertainty, resistance or anger I experience in the studio. I could never be a sculptor, I think I might accidentally kill someone or myself with a powertool or something. Besides I am not so good at collaborations on creative work, I enjoy the privacy and independence that painting affords me.

BS: Can you discuss some of your other influences?

PR: As a student I spent countless hours observing and drawing people on public transport and stations; I love the unaware human subject- I believe this has fueled the voyeurism in my work and persists to this day, though more often now the observation occurs in cafes, bars, restaurants, anywhere public really.

I feel the work is also influenced by my responses to contemporary film and photography, some times subconsciously in ways that affect mood, composition and lighting. At other times the work is a complete reaction against some of the conventions of photography, especially digitally manipulated works. I am not saying I dislike it all, but I think it justifies the need for the plastic arts - unique works crafted over time and with a material substance that might be informed but cannot be consumed by film or photography - they each have their own place in contemporary culture.

I also love walking around my neighborhood and photographing cold abandoned lane-ways; the dampness and melancholy of inner city suburbs enchant me. I plan to do a series of large drawings as a homage to them one day.

In terms of other artists there are so many contemporary ones, but key modernists that have influenced my practice are Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Sean Scully. I always keep books on them close at hand, like life-lines.

Divided You Stand, 2006, oil on canvas, 111 x 111 cm

BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give our readers some insight into your current work?

PR: I have just completed two large commissioned paintings for a private collector. The works were not prescribed too me however, and so they are in keeping with a new series of paintings I will be exhibiting later in the year which, without giving too much away, will continue to explore issues of representation, disconnection and personae. The show is entitled Masquerade.

BS: Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

PR: My next solo exhibition 'Masquerade' will run from 29 November to 24 December at Linderberg Contemporary Art gallery in Melbourne. I have also been invited to exhibit at other national and international events but the details are yet to be confirmed.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?
PR: Just that you can be kept up to date with my works and progress through my website at
You can learn more about Paul Ruiz by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

5 comments: said...

Thanks for posting this interview. I absolutely love these paintings. Hadn't heard of Paul's work till I read this... wonderful interview.

beth said...

I love so much your painting!


Anonymous said...

I really like what I am seeing, but your works is very Auerbach, even down to the titles of the drawings.

Fred Bell Paintings said...

This approach to people painting appeals to me a lot. It is terrific work and inspirational.

Matt Bray said...

Massive fan. great great works. thanks.