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Artist Puts the "Fine" in "Fine Art" with These Ab Paintings

You'll never believe what Conrad Ruiz's sculptures of bros, bad-boys, and gang members are made of...

Los Angeles artist Conrad Ruiz paints large-scale oil and watercolors that explore notions of machismo, from his sexually explicit Juice paintings to his recent Abscapes collection of men’s abdomens. His works reference pop culture, history, and personal experience all at once. 

With the black-and-white paintings of Abscapes, Ruiz challenges stereotypes of masculinity, the male gaze, and desire. He furthers the collection with a prominent sculptural bust of the male body, poised as a gangster with arms akimbo and a Glock. The color palletes of the collection are subtle and soft, muting the toughness portrayed. Ruiz, 32, created the collection out of a nostalgia for his formative high school years in LA, growing up surrounded by jocks and gangsters concurrently. We spoke to the artist about his motivations and manscapes. 

The Creators Project: What inspired this collection?

Conrad Ruiz: This series started a while ago by trying this new workout DVD called P90x, because of how it was marketed as the most extreme thing you could do to develop a rock hard body. I was really interested in working on my core. After doing the workout series for about for two weeks I felt like I was the most fit I've ever been in my life. The next day I stopped and continued with my burrito, beer and weed diet. I became very interested in using the idea of core development as a source of inspiration for developing a series of paintings. I began separating the elements of my watercolor paintings into groupings of sexy thugs and juicy passion energy blasts.  

Knuckles

Why did you decide to make it a collection?

I was really excited about the idea of painting sexy thugs. The combination of toughness vs. great looks is something I failed miserably at in high school. The look I was going for was to appear threatening to other Chicanos but I also wanted to be perceived as sexually desirable to the honeys. A lot of my paintings from this series happen to have several appropriated elements from Abercrombie & Fitch marketing campaigns. Along with fetishizing the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) there is a nostalgic quality about their imagery that made me think of their version of simpler times, that of a post World War II America when our nation was at its peak and without the "complications" of equal rights for women, minorities, and LGBTQ's.  

I'm very interested in that time period as it coincides with the development of LA Mexican-American and Black American gangs; Groups of youth organized to combat the frequent beatings from existing white gangs like the Spook Hunters who were trying to suppress the integration of South and East LA neighborhoods. 

What came first, the bust or the sketches?

The paintings came first and then I became very interested in expanding the figures into a 3D space. 

The idea for making the sculptures came from a recent trip to Greece. I was inspired by the busts and larger-than-life crumbled masterpieces of war generals and mythological beings. I knew I couldn't carve them out of marble slabs so I had to settle for a material that was more portable. I decided to use vanilla whey protein powder.  

In high school football, I was weight lifting and drinking a lot of whey protein powder milkshakes so I could bulk up my body. I thought it would be a great idea to use that same material to create the sculptures. The end result is very detailed and creamy, but I wish it had a vanilla scent. 

I'm also working on making them into ephemeral creatine ice sculptures in which they would melt and disappear during the opening. It's very difficult to find a freezer that can fit the mold of a human torso and when I started describing the dimensions of what I need to a freezer storage company they usually hang up on me assuming that I'm a serial killer trying to hide body parts.  

Secrets

Who likes them more: men or women?

Usually the collectors who pick them up are gay men, but I do get a lot of more positive responses from both sexes. I think abs are funny like that, people are interested in looking at fit bodies.

When will you be showing this work again?

This year I had my first museum solo project at Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara titled Knuckles and Bubbles.  The show exhibited both my Abscapes paintings and sculptures and my Juice paintings. I was really excited to title a show with the names of two gang members at my high school. There is a smooth delicate quality to Knuckles and Bubbles and that idea is something I was happy to see transferred in the work. Knuckles was an enforcer whose job was beating up people. Bubbles was a big mean fat dude that sold cocaine and weed and worked with me at Papa Johns. My next show displaying these pieces is at the Sweeney Gallery at the Riverside Art Museum in November 2015 in a show called Second Wave with several Los Angeles artists that I grew up with.  

Click here for more from Conrad Ruiz.

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