May 12, 2015

2015: Steve Ruiz on Leaving Chicago

Paul Germanos: Hold old are you? Where are you from? When did you come here? Is Chicago one of many stops on your journey?

Steve Ruiz: I'm 29 years old. I was born near Chicago, and lived in its suburbs most of my life. I went to school first at Northern Illinois University, and then at the University of Chicago. "Chicagoland" was my home for the whole of my life--till I left the place in April of 2015. That said, for a kid from the suburbs, moving to the city was a journey in its own right.

Above: Steve Ruiz by Max Herman, converted to black and white (halftone) for publication.

PG: For what did you hope when you came to Chicago? A degree? A job? What did you think that you'd find here? What was your first impression of the city?

SR: After completing my undergraduate education, I came to Chicago to be an artist. I came to join an art community which I had followed from a distance while I studied at college. I wanted, eventually, to go to graduate school. But, more than anything, I wanted to find a place where my personal talents, habits, and way of engaging the world generally, might be useful, might have an audience, and might "link up" with other people who were doing similar things.

I don’t know that I can recall ever having had a first impression of the city, inasmuch as I grew up so near to it. But, when I started to make a habit of spending time there, whatever preconceptions I had were proved untrue. There was a lot that I didn’t understand; there were a lot of people who I didn’t know; the place and its peculiar history
held a lot of meaning that I had yet to absorb.

PG: Did you attend a school here? Which school did you attend? How long were you in school here? Did you receive a degree here? When did you receive your degree?

SR: Yes, I attended the University of Chicago between September 2011 and June 2013. And I earned an MFA.

Above: Steve Ruiz at left, co-curator, with Andrew Blackley and Stephanie Burke, of Quarterly Site #4, seen here standing with a friend before work by Anna Kunz, at LVL3, 1452 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, on October 9, 2010.

PG: How long were you in practice here? Did you enjoy success on your own terms? Can you recall some peak experience? If you felt frustrated, what frustrated you? Poor sales? Lack of publicity? High rent? Crime? Inefficient transportation? Public apathy? Bad weather? What was the total amount of time that you spent as a resident?

SR: I wrote and made art in Chicago between 2009 and 2015. I enjoyed success relative to the goals I set for myself: to meet artists and others interested in art; to connect with creative people; to write about art; and, to make paintings. I was able to show my art alongside some very excellent artists. And I believe that people took me seriously: in what I did, wrote, and made. My frustrations included: a sense that financial reward was very distant; a lack of routes outside of the city for art and other cultural production; and, in general, a feeling that I was in the minor leagues--that there wasn’t enough to go around. I spent about five years in the city itself.

PG: How does Chicago know you? Does Chicago know you? Have you been misunderstood?

SR: Within the art community at least, Chicagoans knows me for my writing, my art, and my management of The Visualist: the city’s visual art events and openings calendar. I co-founded The Visualist in 2011 with Jenny Kendler and Chad Kouri; I've been editing it ever since.

I was most active as a writer
(at Chicago Art Review, then later ArtSlant and Daily Serving, among others) between 2009 and 2011, during which period many people might have known me best as a writer. More recently though, I’ve done less writing and more painting. So, I feel that there might be some year-to-year difference in my reputation--depending on when people knew me.

I had some of the "many hats" misunderstanding which is common to the city’s artists; but there were only a few months when that bothered me: between the initial gladness of having a reputation at all, and the later satisfaction of having more than one thing in which to take pride. Having written that, the stakes were so low that I never felt like I missed out on anything.

Above: Steve Ruiz, foreground, and Lori Waxman, background, participating in the "Crisis-Free Arts Criticism" salon at threewalls, 119 N. Peoria, Chicago, IL, on March 1, 2011.

PG: Was there an event which precipitated your departure? For which other city did you leave? What was waiting for you in that other city?

SR: I moved to Cambridge, England, to be with my fiancé, Marie. We met while I was at University of Chicago; she was finishing her doctoral program at Cambridge, but was spending a quarter in Chicago when I met her. Many flights later, and after some period of uncertainty regarding where we would end up, she secured a job back in the city and I got my visa to join her.

PG: Does Chicago look different to you since your arrival to it and/or departure from it? Do you have advice for someone about to begin what you've finished?

SR: When I first came to Chicago, there was still a strong tradition of independent activity and scene-building. At the time I interpreted it as a moment of excitement and potential; but, in the end, it turned out to be a perennial quality of the city’s art world. In other words, the freedom and ambition that I sensed in Chicago are still there, and are still exciting--but by the time I decided to leave the city I no longer felt that it was the type of freedom and ambition that precedes change.

My advice to someone with similar interests (writing, community infrastructure, learning about place and other artists) would be to place peers above city, to focus on making meaningful connections with artists you like, to tell their stories, and to promote the work you see and enjoy, rather than to try to make something happen. I probably had it right at the start, when I was just cranking out art reviews of basement shows and artists’ first solo exhibitions.

PG: Do you expect to maintain a connection to Chicago and its art world? What's your incentive to stay connected? Have you left friends or family here?

SR: Absolutely. For the moment I’m still running The Visualist. So, I still spend several hours every week researching shows which are upcoming, submitting and editing event listings, emailing gallery directors, and clicking "Maybe" on Facebook events. I have a few shows in Chicago this Fall. And I would love to continue exhibiting my work in a city which is familiar with the place my work comes from--a city of artists who might recognize their own influences in what I do. My family still lives in Chicago, and (for now) most of my best friends do too.

Above: Steve Ruiz, at right, standing beside Sonja Alhäuser's butter buffet billy goat during the opening reception for "Feast" at the Smart Museum, University of Chicago, 5550 S. Greenwood, Chicago, IL, on February 16, 2012.

PG: By what means do you stay abreast of developments in the arts in Chicago? Print? Social media? Visits?

SR: Running The Visualist keeps me up to date, though I read reviews of exhibitions fairly regularly, and I follow the certain careers of artists I like (whether I know them well) who are still in, or exhibiting in, Chicago.

PG: In the end, is place important? Is physical location a matter of consequence in 2015?

SR: Yes. The paintings I’m making these days come directly from the experience of deep place that I had in Chicago: a city animated--brought to life--by the layers of memory, history, narrative, and myth which lie over it. For me, living in Chicago was like living in an imaginary place, fully furnished with an infinite amount of detail and meaning. As a resident of anywhere, it is impossible to keep that layer of imagination out of your head; and if you’re in the business of expressing yourself in words or art, it’s impossible to keep place out of what you produce.

Above: "Prospect" 2015, 5.5 x 7.5 inches, gouache, ink, and enamel on paper, by Steve Ruiz; converted to black and white (halftone) for publication.

PG: Was some important subject omitted from this query? Please introduce any additional material which you believe to be relevant.

SR: This interview didn’t ask who I knew, who was important to me, or who inspired me to stay as long as I did. With many omissions, and in no particular order, that list would include: Philip von Zweck, Ed Marszewski, Jamilee Polson Lacy, Marc Fischer, Magalie Guerin, Ryan Travis Christian, Marcie Oakes, Matt Irie, Scott Wolniak, Geoffrey Todd Smith, Deb Sokolow, Abraham Ritchie, Matt Irie, Deborah Boardman, Chad Kouri, Dana Bassett, Britton Bertran, and Nelson Bland.

- May 9, 2015 (C) Steve Ruiz

Learn more about Steve and his work by visiting his website:
Image (1) above provided by Steve Ruiz, copyright (C) Max Herman; filter applied.
Images (2-4) above copyright (C) 2010-2012 Paul Germanos.
Image (5) above provided by Steve Ruiz, copyright (C) Steve Ruiz
; filter applied.
Edited by Paul Germanos. Apologies for errors and omissions. Contact using the information at right.

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