Maritza Ruiz-Kim

Q&A with Maritza Ruiz-Kim & Gallery Director Laura Moriarty

LM: What motivates your artwork? What is the central theme or core concern? 

MRK: I am driven by an intense curiosity about what makes people tick. I like to look at what brings people together and what breakdowns happen along the way. I take this interest to the studio because I like to capture observations in art pieces that can be lived with. In contrast to written pieces, artwork can occupy a physical space alongside people. I like to think that completed artwork has its own anthropomorphic presence. 

LM: How do you decide what materials to work with? 

MRK: I like to work intuitively with materials. Sometimes that means working quickly with what I have on hand, even walking around the house or yard grabbing objects to convert into art materials. I choose materials based on how they serve the concept I have in mind. Of course, that’s for mixed media artwork or for some videos I’ve made. 

Since I’ve started painting, it’s encaustic paint that serves my work the best. I like to build up the surface with the translucent medium, so that I can explore the picture plane with surface colors, depth, shapes, and texture. Encaustic is great for working with text in a variety of ways. It’s an interactive medium. Build up, carve back, hide, reveal. It’s pliable. It can make objects, and I do like to think of paintings as objects. It’s fast. I like to fight with materials so that an art piece can have its own voice. Using the heated pigment wax/resin stuff, the blowtorch to set the paint, the sharp tools to carve into it, it’s all so physical and it definitely takes me into the moment of making. I started painting regularly once I started using encaustic.

LM: When did you first start to articulate an interest in cultural anthropology?

MRK: I think it’s rooted in the early experiences I had of stark contrasts in my own family history and environment. I was raised in suburban southern California near Disneyland. My mother was a migrant worker (alongside my grandfather) as a child, and I had this history of immigration and otherness while I myself actually blended in quite a bit. We later moved to the rural Mojave Desert. The landscape was so different from the beaches & suburbs of Orange County. My father worked as an architect, so although I lived “in the middle of nowhere”, I was still exposed to wonderful aesthetics and design. On my mother’s side I had the history of immigration, and on my father’s it was a history of our Mexican family living on New Mexico land before it became US territory. What was American-ness? As a teenager, I read long books on heavy subjects (the holocaust, criminology) and I asked myself what made people terrible and what made us all alike. What was humanness? I love the complexity of how different people come together. I see it as a big puzzle that provides infinite opportunities for inquiry and exploration.

LM: I really enjoy your blog. Has writing always been an important part of your practice?

MRK: Thanks! At one point I really felt I needed to decide: would I be a writer or an artist? Making the early choice to work as a visual artist seemed to provide more opportunities for an interdisciplinary approach. Besides, I love making things with my eyes and hands, so I make art. For my process, writing does play an integral role. I use language to process ideas. My sketchbook is about 75/25 notes to images. I need to articulate things to myself, and then translate it into the visual experience. When I reflect on what is happening in the studio, I am drawn to pay attention to what I’m doing, and what the materials are doing. There seems to be a story to tell there, and I like to make connections. I love the way visual art tells things, and language makes people see. I like walking the bridge between the two ways of communicating.
Although people don’t always find titles of artwork to be crucial, I really like the artwork to be made complete by the title (which sometimes has a visual component also). The words and images work together: title, color, size, placement, images and materials - they all work to make a mysterious whole that is completed uniquely by each viewer. I’m not sure I will always work this way… or maybe I always will, despite myself. I love image making and language. 

LM: Tell us about your recent project, I Will Find. Having just completed this project, where has it left you?

MRK: “I Will Find” was a month long project in which I went on a daily search for kindness in online exchanges. I tried to vary the location of searches as much as I could. I looked at my own social media feeds as well as chatrooms I didn’t know existed before the beginning of this project. People connect in so many ways online, and I wanted to see where they did it and how it was done. 

For 28 days I found pieces of text then made artwork in response. I titled each piece to work in conjunction with the source text embedded in the works. The 28 works consist of: 1 video, 2 photos, 3 sculptures, 7 works on paper, and 15 paintings on panel.

Where has it left me? Halfway into the project, I was emotionally and creatively exhausted. By the last few days, I thought to myself, I have nothing left. I’m pulling from nothing. But I kept making work. When I saw that I ended up making things I enjoyed - even in that utter exhaustion - I realized I have more to give my work than I previously knew. Since I posted and shared each piece as I went, I had to live with the public nature of letting my creative process hang out like the laundry. There were days I wanted to retract earlier pieces (even the previous day’s!) from the display. There were pieces I absolutely didn’t like as much as others. But by the end of the month, each of the ones I disliked the most turned out to be the favorite of someone else, while some of my favorites went unmentioned. This has me examining the nature of how I select finished work, especially when the entirety of the month’s work hanging together really completes the concept. 

By the end of the month of intense work, despite how much I entertained the thought of doing absolutely nothing, I actually do want to dig deeper into other work. I have a few series that haven’t gotten as much of my attention as did this “I Will Find” inquiry. Now that I have been through this grueling process, I see better what I need to do with my other series. I have a better idea how to fully explore a concept. I am curious what I will do now that I don’t have these self-imposed time constraints, and excited to fix my attention on what’s next.