Gina Ruggeri on Changing her Painting Language

Kevin Van Gorp
Apr 14, 2016 7:42PM

101/EXHIBIT began working with Gina Ruggeri during the first edition of our annual invitational exhibition, Koi No Yokan, which premiered in 2013. In anticipation of her upcoming solo exhibition with 101/EXHIBIT—her first with the gallery as well as her first in Los Angeles—I sat down with Ruggeri for a brief Q&A. 

Kevin Van Gorp: You received your MFA from Yale in 1996 and had your first solo show at Vassar College in 2002. What were those early years like for you as you pursued your artistic practice, and how did you wind up living in New York City?

Gina Ruggeri: Moving to NYC made sense after finishing grad school. Most of my friends were moving here, and I was going with the flow. I wasn’t in a hurry to start showing in galleries, I wanted to develop my work without that pressure. But it took me some time to get my bearings. I was under a misguided impression that I needed to make an entirely different kind of work from what I had made in grad school. It took me a while to realize that I could pick up where I left off with my thesis, these big installation paintings I had made. Once I realized that, I began to make the work on Mylar that led to my first solo show.

KVG: You began showing with Kevin Bruk Gallery in Miami in the mid-2000s, at the height of that scene’s momentum. Now, you are preparing for a solo show in Los Angeles, which is experiencing a similarly meteoric rise of its own. What is it about these alternatives to New York City that excites you?

GR: I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to show my work and see it in a new context. There is something freeing about showing away from home, like taking more chances is part of the opportunity. For this show, my idea of LA (a place I haven’t yet been) has informed the work. I don’t know the LA art scene the way I do New York City’s, so in that sense it feels full of possibility.

KVG: Your work has made a drastic shift in the past four to five years, from representative and illusionistic conceptual paintings on Mylar to a brazenly abstract approach that emphasizes an “all-overness.” Would you reconstruct how you came to this new interest?

GR: After my last solo show in New York at Nancy Margolis Gallery, I made a decision to stop painting on Mylar. Although I love that work and was happy with the exhibition, I had a growing sense that my process was becoming too determined and familiar to me, and I had doubts about where I could continue to take it. I was curious about what else I could do if it wasn’t reliant on that particular material.

It turns out I had to change my entire painting language. Simply transferring the illusionistic imagery to another format made no real sense to me. So I began a four year period of intense searching, experimenting with different surfaces, formats, materials, arrangements, and processes. Among other things, I became particularly involved in making free-form patterns on cloth, using all kinds of staining, pouring, and marbleizing processes, and a lot of color.

At the time, I wasn’t really sure what I would do with these experiments on cloth, but eventually they became the raw material and generative concept for my current work - these improvisational collage paintings. Artist Judy Glantzman, a dear friend, described these new works as different from the work on Mylar in that the safe vantage point outside the painting is eliminated. They invite the viewer into an all-over, disorienting space of colliding patterns and forms that deform and transform. I am excited by this approach – that I don’t know how it will turn out when I start, and that its indeterminacy is explicit to the viewer. It feels open and full of potential.

KVG: Which attractions are at the top of your LA sightseeing list? 

GR: I’ve always been curious about the La Brea Tar Pits! All that ancient ooze bubbling up right there in the midst of the city – I’ve got to see it. And of course, I plan to go to as many of the galleries and art museums as I can. The Getty, MoCA, LACMA, the Broad - there is a lot to see. I’ll need to spend some time!

Kevin Van Gorp