Artist of the Week

Ruben Nusz

January 2, 2012

Saint Paul-based artist Ruben Nusz was born in South Dakota and raised by cowboys.  He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Minnesota.  He’ll be featured in the upcoming exhibition Lifelike at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. It’s funny, when people ask what I do I typically say that I’m a painter.  For non-artists, they assume I paint houses.  I usually don’t correct this assumption.  It sets people at ease.

 If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? I often wonder what it would be like to explain what I do to an alien from another planet.  I think I would say that I’m an explorer of minutiae.  Subtle nuances of the universe that I can document via the language of painting.  I’ve been thinking about rocks lately.  The old masters (pre 19th century) all ground their own pigments before mixing with linseed oil.  Well, pigments are rocks, really.  So, all the old paintings are rocks on the wall.  Literally cave paintings.  That’s what I do.  I make marks on the walls of caves; from Lascaux to today, it hasn’t changed.  It’s like we’re carving into picnic tables saying things like: “Kilroy was here.”

How has your work developed within the past year? I’m a late bloomer. My work has recently matured. I’m more confident in my process and in creating objects without preconceived ideas. I trust the world to inform my practice rather than vice versa.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? My publishing project Location Books (with Scott Nedrelow) just released our first book for the ipad titled As It Is Again by internationally renowned photographer JoAnn Verburg.  The free app chronicles the slow shift of seasons in Italy from winter to spring.

Location will also be releasing books by artists Eric Carlson, Aaron Anderson, and Crystal Quinn as well as a Location Volume featuring John Opera, Ann Woo, Adam Schreiber and Stevie Rexroth.

Scott and I are also starting a digital publishing company that specializes in ebooks for children with illustrations by artists.

As for my own work, I have a solo painting show at Saint Cloud State University in March.  And I have some sculptures from 2008 that will be featured in the exhibition Lifelike at the Walker Art Center.  That show opens in Minneapolis in February and travels to San Diego, New Orleans and Austin.

Finally, I’m putting the finishing touches on a feature-length Western screenplay titled “Through the Red Haze of Blood, Blood, Blood.”

What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days, and how do you see it developing? Why do anything, let alone anything that is ostensibly superfluous like art?  I believe that artists make work to answer this question.  I create a system to justify every action as an artist, specifically as a painter.  That process acts as the conceptual subtext for the recent paintings, the geometric ones in particular. For example, the Untitled stick paintings came from a personal algorithm (a simple algorithm is like a recipe for cooking).  Here’s one example:
1) Make a painting that justifies the validity of painting as a medium.
2) Justify the process by specifically highlighting the attributes only possible in painting.
3) Those attributes are the ability to distort perception by playing with illusory and tactile space.
4) Execute this by first creating a basic illusion (the frame).
5) Using the language of the frame, undermine the illusion of the frame.
6) Finish the painting when a composition is established that pulls the primary visual emphasis away from the frame so that the frame appears to be a secondary element (even if it is, in fact, a primary element).

What do you do when you’re not working on art? Nothing.

What artists are you interested in right now? In Minneapolis I’m interested in all of the artists we work with at Location (John Fleischer, Scott Stulen, Isa Gagarin, Allen Brewer, etc…).  In addition, locally I enjoy the work of  Jay Heikes, Andrea Carlson, Katelyn Farstad, Greg Fitz, the guys at ro/lu and too many others to name.  Outside of Minnesota I’m in love with Gedi Sibony, Jessica Eaton, Jo Baer and Richard Nonas.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? Howard Hodgkin at Gagosian.

If you hadn’t become an artist, what do you think you’d be doing? I don’t know, but here are some jobs that I’ve done (and learned from) but didn’t enjoy as much as making art:
-garbage man
-garbage man (yeah, I did it twice)
-price management at a retail store
-camera operator
-construction worker
-Subway sandwich artist