Building her sculptures with cement, Plexiglas, neon, multi-colored paints, and industrial materials, Esther Ruiz translates moments - imagined and real - into freestanding objects. These abstract symbols, realized through cylinders, triangles, and semi-circles, take shape in different forms, as her studio is filled with small ornaments, large sculptures, wall-mounted prints, impressive light installations, and hand-drawn sketches.
Between her work's poppy aesthetic, the juxtaposition of media, and her social on-and-offline personality, Esther has developed somewhat of a cult following. She's been asked to participate in shows ranging from small DIY projects like "The Lamp Show" at 99¢ Plus Gallery to bigger productions like Next Wave Art at BAM; And she even recently sold works to celebrities Nick Cave and Ethan Hawke (swoon!) It's no surprise that the 20+ hours she spends in her Brooklyn-based studio each week is paying off, and that her glowing work is heating up the art world.
Your background is pretty varied in terms of your interests and studies. How did you get into the arts?
I've been interested in art since I was a child. I took private art lessons throughout grade school. And in high school I was the Art Club president for three years, so it's really been an ongoing interest. It took me a while, however, to decide on being an Art Major in college. Mainly because of my mother... But once I finally decided that's what I needed to do, everything just slid into place and made sense. You're right that my practice is somewhat varied - I've always focused on feeding other interests into the studio.
Why neon? Is this a material you thought about using for a while or did you come about it circumstantially? Similarly, how did you wind up working with cement?
Well, I had been using fluorescent colors for quite a while. And in 2011 I started working at Lite Brite Neon Studio, and it's influenced my work, to say the least. As far as the concrete goes, I started using it as soon as I moved to New York - not really sure why, but I think having more literal contact with it drew me to understand it more intimately.
Who are your influences? Normally, I'd consider this a pretty cheesy question, but your work is unlike anybody else's I've seen.
Well, I learned about Keith Sonnier through Lite Brite, and I absolutely love his minimal work. I also really admire the work of James Turrell, Eva Hesse, and Lee Ufan. But to be honest, my biggest influences are geology, science-fiction movies, and geometry.
What are you listening to while you're working in the studio?
Oooooooh well always techno! I also really like contemporary rap and 90's pop...
Where have you shown your work in the past, and where would you like to exhibit in the future?
I've shown at Platform in Baltimore, a few places in Washington D.C. including The American Center for Physics, Botoga, Philadelphia, and most recently at New Release and Planthouse Gallery in Manhattan. I have a solo show coming up in Marfa, Texas and I'm doing an installation on the project wall in the lobby of BAM this fall so that's exciting, too! I'm taking what comes at me! My ultimate goal is to show at the Guggenheim and the Whitney.
How do most curators and buyers find you? Or how do you find them?
The internet, really. Blogs and Instagram have helped curators see my work. But I'm also incredibly social, so I'm constantly meeting new people.
I think your art has a multi-dimensional quality. You are primarily known for your sculptures - both small and large - but are also now experimenting with hung light fixtures, as well as prints. This could easily lead to textile design, or even fashion. Do you hope to expand that broadly?
Well I've been asked to do a lot of interesting projects, which has allowed me to experiment with different mediums and outlets, like silkscreening and lamp design. I think I could venture out in the future but I would definitely distinguish the two.
Any words of advise for aspiring artists or art enthusiasts?
I'd say for artists, ambition and hard work go a long way. Be specific in what you want for your career and don't say "yes" to too many things. Quality shows over quantity. Don't give too much work away for free. And if you curate, don't just curate your friends into shows... For art enthusiasts, I'd just say, stay open-minded. Let the work take you away.
How has living and working in Brooklyn's budding creative community affected your work?
My first year was really hard, but i think it is for most people. Over the years I've met so many wonderful people and I've seen SO MUCH ART. I think that living and working here has helped me define my practice quicker than I think any other place could. I also don't procrastinate in the studio, not that I ever really did, but because time is so sacred in New York, I make it count when I'm in the studio. As soon as I walk through the doors, I'm in work mode. I don't think I'd work so rigorously if I lived anywhere else.
Also, my day job has taught me so much about new materials. And all of my friends here are either artists or work in the arts professionally, so I get behind the scene information and knowledge. I get to see how other professional artists and galleries work, which has helped me be more professional in managing my own studio.
Photos by Masha Badinter