1.6 / Review

Conrad Ruiz: Cold, Hard and Wet

By Brady Welch January 13, 2010

In an interview with Vice magazine, Los Angeles-based painter (and recent California College of the Arts MFA graduate) Conrad Ruiz states that a principal aim of his practice is to create what he terms an “ultimate boy zone.” [1] This makes a basic sort of sense, since for a painter who so often alludes to the archetypes of the Old Masters, one would be hard pressed to find even an instance of a milky white bosom in his work. But should the apparent homoeroticism of his man-centered modus operandi reinforce an assumption that Ruiz is exploring masculinity and the male form (a la Kehinde Wiley) because he, well, likes boys, is an inaccurate hypothesis.

When Ruiz says “ultimate boy zone,” the lay reader would do well to understand the object as “dude,” and his attendant interests in comic books, science fiction movies, video games, Discovery Channel documentaries, extreme sports, guns, and laser beams. Ruiz has even entitled his website “Conradical.” His first solo exhibition, “Cold, Hard and Wet” on view at Silverman Gallery, shows us a painter of almost effervescent talent who displays little self-consciousness about his vision.

The most bombastic piece in the show, Go Go Love Don't Go (2009), is also the most representative of Ruiz's stated mission. In it, the comedian Tracy Morgan is painted as a satyr who, along with two unidentified young girls (one happily munching upon a banana), is riding atop the black centaur character from 1984's The Neverending Story. The three riders appear to be graciously enjoying themselves while the centaur—fiery scepter in one hand, bright blue laser beam shooting from the other—is a screaming blaze of horse and black man with a white mane and piercing eyes. In the background, a stallion lies in waste, wrenching upon its back, amidst what appears to be some sort of cosmic supernova, beautifully toned in fiery reds and a cool blue-green. In the upper left, a mallard, inexplicably and apparently unrelated, takes flight. This inexplicability also extends to the inclusion of Morgan in the painting, or for that matter, a black centaur with snow-white hair. Ruiz’s signature brand of humor is a key factor in how “Cold, Hard and Wet” attains—for better or worse—its unavoidable entertainment value.

In another work, Multiple Peaks (2009), seven snow skiers float airborne in a blue sky in various gymnastic contortions, all smiling widely and firing what look to be fully automatic handguns. In Rough Riders (2008), a hideously ferocious shark, razor-filled maw wide open, emerges from a sea that spits saltwater and possibly blood upon the canvas. Ruiz saves the viewer from a potentially serious Sturm und Drang moment by inserting a couple of adventuring-seeking bros riding along the shark's back; one holding a glowing spear, and the other brandishing what is either a light saber or signal flare.

True to his mission, Ruiz basically paints men engaging in life-threatening and adrenaline-inducing activities either in the natural realm or the fantastic. He does so in a way that is both humorous and awesome—as in awe—that harkens simultaneously to the grand Romantics and whimsical

Multiple Peaks, 2009; watercolor on canvas; 80 x 80 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.
Rough Riders, 2008; watercolor on canvas; 83 x 76 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.

Rococo. Which makes it all the more interesting that for a painter so influenced by history painting, there is very little history Ruiz is giving the viewer in “Cold, Hard and Wet.” Beyond their buoyant, at times kitschy, visual effect, it is unclear whether there is much at work thematically beyond contemporary art identity-isms and catch-alls such as masculinity. Not that Ruiz's work is obligated to tell the viewer anything at all, of course, far from it. Here is an incredibly gifted painter—almost flamboyantly so—and that for some, justly, is enough. Look and enjoy.

Go Go Love Don't Go, 2009; watercolor on canvas; 84 x 84 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.

Nevertheless, Ruiz's emerging practice is exciting. His work has the potential to tell the viewer about a lot more than just men being boys. This is not a sentimental request either. Other contemporary painters like Joe Becker and Laurie Hogin evince a high level of engagement with classical sources and emerge with incredibly articulate and meaningful work. This is not to suggest that Ruiz's work is hollow, not at all. Rather, it asks that the viewer make a certain acknowledgement, namely, that Conrad Ruiz is a young artist under the bright lights (increasingly so in the Bay Area). The obvious composure evident in “Cold, Hard and Wet” is attractive, but the work displays little of the vulnerability that one might have expected, or hoped for, in a recent art school graduate.

It is a blessing then, that there is little reason to hurry with Conrad Ruiz. His practice has plenty of time to mature, and one would do well to anticipate the interesting and surely unorthodox truths his work will eventually show us. 

“Conrad Ruiz: Cold, Hard and Wet” is on view at Silverman Gallery in San Francisco through January 30, 2010.

[1] http://www.viceland.com/int/guide_san_francisco/htdocs/conrad-ruiz-102.php

Brady Welch is a freelance writer and editor based in San Francisco. His writing has appeared in 032c, DailyServing, and other publications.

CORRECTION, January 19, 2010: An incorrect version of this review was originally published.  The current version is the accurate one.

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