What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

August 26, 2021

Conrad Ruíz
Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken
Nino Mier Gallery
August 7 - September 11, 2021

Conrad Ruíz

News images containing flames and fire have been a routine occurrence for years. It is hard to forget the riots or the fires that have blanketed the globe recently. Conrad Ruíz is a collector who has amassed an archive of these haunting and vibrant pictures from myriad sources, be they photographs he has taken himself or appropriated from the internet or print media. He sifts through his archive, sometimes mixing and matching imagery to foreground the impact of the event. Ruíz also looks to Hollywood and often titles his images after commercial films to infuse them with additional references and potential meanings.

His exhibition, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, is comprised of eight modest-sized watercolors on paper, that have a visceral impactful and lasting effect. Gleaming the Cube II (all works 2021), depicts a dreadlocked, backpack wearing skateboarder performing tricks on a street in front of a burning car. It is named after the 1989 film in which Christian Slater plays a skateboarder investigating the death of his adopted Vietnamese brother. Likewise, Gleaming the Cube III is a painting of an exploded car whose flames and smoke cloud billow in front of the gray facade of a residential building. As if oblivious or indifferent to the explosion, a boy rides his bike toward the flames, doing a wheelie along the way.

Denzel Washington was the star of Tony Scott's 2004 film Man on Fire, playing a body guard who is out for revenge. Two works in Ruíz's exhibition are titled Man on Fire, both images of burning men flying through the air. Are these men victims of a violent act? Suicides? Superheroes? Man on Fire XV pictures a man leaning against a wall in front of a treelined park. His body is surrounded by burning paper, his head aflame. His arms and legs could perhaps, propel him forward to safety, yet he is immobilized. Ruíz paints this gruesome scene with exacting detail, his command of watercolor luminescent, aglow and congruent with the content of the image.

While the fiery monster truck in Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken is named the 'Avenger' and the event is sponsored by 'Lucas Oil' — clearly film references —, the consequences of the explosion cannot be ignored. Because they are all too familiar, there is little humor in Ruíz's depictions. That he chooses to spend time beautifully rendering these hororific scenes calls attention to the need to explore the cause and effect of violence and examine why with over exposure, some become numb to it while others can't get enough. The works in Ruíz's exhibition examine the theatrics of violence. They are apocalyptic, yet also staged. These powerful paintings are both attractive and not so easy to look at and take in. Ruíz imbues his work with cultural as well as pop-culture references, yet to those not in the know, they remain reminders of the realities of war and climate change and human vulnerability.