Passage Arts x Christian Ruiz Berman

Christian Ruiz Berman: My work is an exploration of the ways that things like history, culture, language, and symbols are constantly subject to remix, hybridization, and reinvention. I am particularly interested in poetry, irreverence, and innovation. My painting work mashes up digital-age aesthetics with archaeology and magical realism, and strives to compile both a highly personal codex and a set of new directions for Mexican-American painting.

Passage Arts: How did you get started as an artist?

CRB: One way to answer this is to say that, if art is exploration, I’ve never been anything but an artist. Since I can remember, I’ve been interested in discovery and invention. A second way to answer this is to say that I’m not sure how to answer this, because I’m not even sure how to answer “How did you get started?” Where do any of us really start? Do we begin at the meeting of sperm and egg, or at the big bang? I can recognize myself in my mother’s face, and sometimes my memory seems to extend beyond what I’ve experienced. Our only permanent nature seems to be motion and potential- and seen that way, living is act of interminable creation. When did you become an artist? Depends on when you think you were born.

PA: What did you learn traveling and working in environmental science?

CRB: Traveling and working in environmental conservation have taught me most of the useful things I know. They have taught me that as a person, I mean less than nothing, but that with enough dedication, I can also affect massive change on relative scales. They have taught me that everything constantly changes, but that relationships are anchors that ground us in the present, and give meaning to our passing interactions. I’ve learned that the arc of the universe does not bend towards justice, but towards chaos- and that creating justice and meaning is an endlessly useless, but also endlessly important task. My work taught me that we exist as an apparatus, that every organism is equally important, and that we’re only as strong as the love that we have for our most seemingly insignificant cohabitant. It taught me to love and hate humanity, and it made me both cynical and endlessly awed by nature’s ability to improvise. Traveling taught me that home is an idea, that we are all more similar than we might think, and that there is no limit to the diversity that can exist in the universe. As someone who has never had one base, traveling has reinforced the freedom I feel from the chains of a given identity or one set of opinions. I’ve learned to make impermanence my bedfellow, and to feel ok with changing my mind. I’ve learned that we’re only fully correct in our opinions as long as we never go anywhere or meet anyone.

PA: What is it like navigating the world of galleries and art dealers as an up-and-coming artist?

CRB: I usually don’t feel like I’m navigating anything. Being tossed around in the storm would be a more accurate metaphor. At times, I meet gallerists, curators, and collectors who interact with me face to face and eye to eye. They become my friends and mentors. Sometimes I meet people in the same roles, and they make me feel like a racehorse or an irritating insect. I feel forever grateful for those that give me a platform to interact. Other times, I feel like making art is mainly a vacuum that I pour my energy into - that no one cares to see me, to know my work, or to acknowledge the massive sacrifice that goes into creating something.

Sometimes I feel like gallerists and curators merely act as weathervanes, swinging around according to popular or political demand. Sometimes I feel pigeonholed; accepted or alternately rejected because of a perceived or simplified identity. Sometimes I feel that “relevance” and trends have trampled creativity, originality, irreverence, skill, humor, and especially, fun. Other times I feel like my work connects me more deeply to another person than anything else could have. Sometimes I feel that other artists are like a second family. Other times I feel that every artist I meet is simply trying to amplify their own reflection until they can believe that what they see in the glass has inherent meaning. Some gallerists are all about the hustle- and I can relate to that- there’s a joy to thriving, to doing business, to connecting the dots. I’ve learned to find happiness despite poverty, but I value the times that hard work pays off in concrete ways. At other times, I can’t stand to have any practical agenda- I feel cloistered by painting as a means of survival. I love curating other peoples’ work. It’s like traveling.

Some art-world professionals seem to truly care about the person behind the work, and that makes me feel hope. I yearn for both mentorship and partnership, and am insulted by those who think that art is anything but a basic human drive- one that must be nurtured and respected, and that artists are normal people, and not freak products. We can curate, we can administrate, we can negotiate, we can be self sufficient and not starve. But like anyone else, we also need the support and relationship-building that nourish every person, no matter how they make their money. Often, we are especially sensitive and vulnerable people, but that also makes us very strong. Making art takes a lot of courage, and constant rejection takes even more. This often feels like a completely insane decision. Many of us never received the encouragement to take risks.

When someone exhibits the courage to believe in and support my work, it feels like nothing short of falling in love. I feel like I’ve moved beyond my body and my history, and stepped into someone else’s reality. We spend so much time looking at ourselves and critiquing our own image, that it can be a relief to feel understood by other eyes. Making good art feels like I’m letting parts of myself escape like paper airplane notes from the windows of my own reality prison, and that only as other people unfold them and read them can I see what’s been locked inside.

PA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

CRB:

Song for us all

mostly people are scared mostly people are hard mostly people are guilty of being handed the wrong set of cards

mostly people they fight when they're better off loved in the glow of a light mostly people are lost

in the beautiful dark of this night

mostly the world is a push and a pull

of the space between things and we're full of the longing of music and pain

of the wind and the sky and the rain

see the burn on the cheek of the wind and the frost on the face of the hill

see the sorrow and heartache we feel on the boots of the walking and still are we soft, are we strong, are we flesh are we going to places unseen

where the making is all of our minds and the feeling is all of our dreams.

 

Wish (because it might not happen)

If only things were more simple but wishes are drifting

ripped missives

sleeves of thin paper

I dreamt I was better at waking dreams are empty rooms outside, a couple stood in line filling applications

waiting on love's labor

I wish you weren't taken

but wishes are spaces before lines traces and tea stains

and lost time

here we are again toasting this

hopeful fermentation the bubbles forming the top opening

and always

I say the wrong thing to anyone who cares

because they remind me

of me of the if?

and if and if and if and if

and whatever we're in-

it's akin to milk in the morning all in the delivery

and not in the hoping.

 

6.

There’s solid evidence

to support the fact that

driving out to Narragansett

with a bucketful of eels

at midnight

and standing on the jetty at Galilee and drinking half a six pack

as the tide goes out

and letting the day’s bullshit

pass through that channel

with the lobster trawlers

and watching the moon rise up slowly like so many of your lovers

did on dark winter mornings

is something that will stay with you much longer than any

of those lovers did


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