Brooklyn-based Esther Ruiz moulds concrete, rocks and neon to create bright, colourful and atmospheric glimpses of her perceptions of otherworldly landscapes. Working with natural and man-made mediums, she unearths fragments and builds objects that encapsulate the passage of time and highlight the beauty of the medium. Her work will be exhibited in a two-person solo exhibition at New Release Gallery, NY, in 2016.
Where are you from and how long have you been in New York now?
I am from Houston. I went to school in Seattle, then New Orleans for a semester, lived in Baltimore and then I finished school at Rhodes, in Tennessee. I’ve been in New York five years now. The first year was really tough. I was a barista and I worked for a few artists and a gallery. That’s how I got my art experience. Then I started working for the Neon Shop, I have been there for four years now.
Did all these cities have an impact on your work?
Yeah, I like moving a lot, adapting to new places.
Did you have experience working with neon?
I had no experience! I learned everything I know about it from my job and I took a geology course at Rhodes my last semester. We were studying pore samples. That is where the cylindrical forms in my work come from. I tried making my own pore samples. You drill into the ground and pull out a long cylinder of the earth, which can be several hundred feet long. Then you study the different layers that show the history of the earth and how things were made.
Has geology always been an interest of yours?
Well, the course was a requirement but I like that the rocks tell time and history and they hold a lot in them visually. That has stuck with me. Rocks themselves are keepsakes because they are marking time and they are also very beautiful. I mostly work with geodes, the more three-dimensional ones and the thin slices which are dyed. I like the way how they are made, and the fact that you have to crack them, and how the outside is raw and the insides are beautiful and crystal.
So it is mostly about the physicality of the object for you versus its spiritual associations?
I think so. I am more interested in the geology of rocks rather than its spirituality, but I know that always comes across because of the associations. I do not mind it, because I feel like making them can sometimes be a spiritual process – it’s very meditative, and I am very focused and deliberate the entire time.
How do you source your materials?
I handpick everything. I am very deliberate in choosing the stones that are very symmetrical or come in certain shapes. They come as you see them, then I glue them making sure they are symmetrical and I sink them into the concrete. The neon works take a bit more planning.
What is your creative process like?
I just gather a bunch of materials, a bunch of rocks and Plexiglas and I sit with them. The neon ones are a bit more planned, more technical. All of the concrete moulds are hollow. I build a rectangle out of wood, I mark where the neon will go, place the dowels, build an outer mould and then I pour in the concrete.
What is the significance of these objects?
For me they are markers of time. But in my mind they could be life-size landscapes where you could walk around the surface. I think a lot about what the landscapes and the night sky look like on other planets, or how the setting sun would look from Jupiter or Mars. Some of them have a ring of sand around – that could be cosmic dust. It’s a threefold: it’s coming from a landscape, it’s coming from itself, but it is also coming from geology, time and momentum of time which encapsulates a feeling or a moment.
Is there a reason why you are so attracted to symmetry?
I like things to be balanced. That’s the fun of using natural materials, they will never be perfectly symmetrical, so I have to work around it. In my mind, I want them to be perfectly symmetrical, which I can do in a drawing after. In real life they might be a little off. But it is really satisfying to make the drawing afterwards, to make them complete.
How do you see your evolution as an artist?
I feel like my new work came out of my old one very easily. I was making these USB crystals, which are similar forms to my new work, and I was also doing these spiritual objects, still geometric and colourful. Then in my first studio in New York I started working with Plexiglas, geodes and concrete. Once I started working at the Neon Shop I added the neon, which is what I am now primarily working with. The new work is a little more abstract, not a landscape but rather an object from those landscapes. They are very surreal.
Are you a sci-fi fan?
Yeah, totally. I am a total Star Wars fan!
What artists inspire you?
I really like Keith Sonnier. He made neon work in the 60’s, no text pieces, but all imagery and lines. Greg Bogin, Eva Hess, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd… that cannon of Minimal and Earth artists. There is a certain meditative and beautiful simplicity in their works. I see works that are busy and I think it is harder to make works that are minimal and quiet. The world is so busy that making very specific and intentional work is a good balance.
What do you listen to while you are making these?
Mostly techno and 90’s pop. It’s like listening to candy.