Throughout the exhibition we see bloodied, gun-toting macho men, almost cartoonish in their extreme, participating in representations of actual events. In each image, these groups of men are enveloped in an ecstatic, borderline erotic, moment as they’re swallowed by an admonishing red wave that embodies excitement and terror.
The exhibition is titled after Art Burton’s, Black, Red and Deadly: Black and Indian Gunfighters of the Indian Territory, 1870-1907, a book about Black and Native American cowboys, gunfighters, and refugees that lived alongside each other during the western expansion of the United States. Ruíz overlays the book’s described intersection of race, violence and masculinity with personal and familial history in the same way he combines insane fantasy with journalistic documentation.
If traditional history painting extended into the era of fake news and virtual reality, it might well look like the world that Ruíz builds in this latest group of large-scale oil paintings and small watercolors. In Come Harder, a 9-foot-tall canvas, Ruíz gives his interpretation of the 1,200-year-old Japanese Onbashira Festival, where participants transport massive fir trunks to the shrines of Suwa. The event involves riding the logs down hills to demonstrate bravery, and participants are often injured or killed. Ruíz confounds images from the event with his own memory of riding Splash Mountain at Disneyland with a sexually frustrated crew of middle school friends. Rough Riders, a title that references Theodore Roosevelt, a hip-hop label and studded condoms, portrays a horse race crash, where jockeys and horses plummet into a climactic splash of red liquid, human and animal body parts. Another work, Black, Red and Deadly, combines a North Korean propaganda painting with elements from a video game; the painting’s bare-chested central figure grins widely while holding a machine gun. Part reality and part parody, the works are terrifying and preposterous in their depiction of masculinity taken to the extreme.
Conrad Ruíz received his MFA from the California College of the Arts. He has exhibited at institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santa Barbara, Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco, Yautepec Gallery, Mexico City, the Torrance Art Museum, Steve Turner Gallery, the Berkeley Art Museum, and Pacific Film Archive. Ruíz lives and works in Los Angeles.