This Is Not A Sign, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 24" x 24"
RICKY ARMENDARIZ's bright-hued painted surfaces are inscribed with creatures from Native myth, famous figures from the Western painting cannon, tattoo imagery and references to car culture in the Southwest. Carved in clean, beveled lines and thin crosshatching, his imagery doesn't just sit on the surface, but is part of the surface. This physical quality is a metaphor for the entwined relationship between what we call traditional and what we call contemporary. Ricky earned his BFA at University of Texas at San Antonio and his MFA at University of Colorado at Boulder. He has been represented by Ruiz-Healy Art since 2012. You can see his work in their San Antonio gallery through October 31, 2020 in Manos (hands), a two-person show also featuring the work of Andres Ferrandis. At their Manhattan location, Ricky's work is on view through October 17, 2020 in the group show Con(Text). His solo exhibition Smoke Signals and Other Reliable Means of Communication just opened at Flatbed Press (Austin, TX) and runs through October 17, 2020. Ricky lives and works in San Antonio, Texas.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between tradition and innovation in your work.
Ricky Armendariz: I grew up not understanding the difference between high and low art, self-taught and academic art forms. My walls were covered with folk art and traditional paintings. It’s that hybridity that has informed my aesthetic approach to art making. My work is a mix of both traditional and nontraditional techniques. The painting process is very traditional with oil glazes to create the skyscapes or landscapes. After several months of drying time, I use a large power tool to etch imagery into the surface of the painting. I enjoy being slightly irreverent with the painting process.
Juan de Pareja, 2016. oil on carved plywood. 37" x 48"
OPP: How does the process of adding paint and then carving it away in serve your conceptual concerns?
RA: The idea was to reference carved wood signs of the American Southwest. My initial intention was to subvert the Southwestern stereotype; originating in 50-60s American cinema. The carved mark, which is a marring of the surface, serves as a counter balance to the refinement of the painting process. I also believe the carved mark reinforces the significance of the imagery, due to its permanence. The burned drawings have a mark that underscores the graveness of that imagery.
Cono de Fuego, 2018. oil on birch panel. 48" x 48"
OPP: Various animals show up again and again: coyote, jack rabbit, buffalo, snake, crow. In your work, are these animals characters, allegories, references to myth, or simply non-human beings living in the world?
RA: American myth is very dogmatic; figures are good or bad. Native traditions have more nuanced characters in their myth. Much of my work is referential of myth and allegories found in classical works of art as well as my own oral tradition. I’m interested in the parallels between my own myths, the myths of other people and in that connectivity of these allegories.
Meet You On The Other Side, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 24" x 24"
OPP: Coyote is a trickster, right? How does he show up in your work? What does he do in your work that he doesn’t do in traditional indigenous myth?
RA: Yes, but it's more complex than that. In myth protagonists often are complex individuals. Characters are both good and bad and everything in-between especially within indigenous myths. I possess aspects of the coyote, I identify with him. He is someone that has difficulty seeing the good in things. Depending on the story, he is an individual who is dissatisfied with the gifts he has been given. He consistently looks to the greener grass just outside his reach.
Myth is a living thing. Characters change, stories change and the complexity of the characters evolve. I don’t use many known myths, I prefer to write the myths in-between the myths we are familiar with. I actually write stories that I use as a guide for the work.
Last Ride of Juan Diego, 2018. oil on birch panel with lights. 24" x 48"
OPP: When did you first introduce light bulbs into your work? Are you creating new constellations based on contemporary culture?
RA: I did that back in graduate school as a way to reboot our traditional constellations. I also believe in fate and chance and how that shapes our lives. I am of Mexican decent, and we tend to live very closely with our superstitions and our belief in things that are hard to quantify.
Blown off Course, Guided by Spirits, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 48" x 48"
OPP: How has your art practice been impacted by the pandemic and the collective socio-political unrest of 2020?
RA: I know this is a very serious and grave time in our world. I’m getting a lot done in the studio, I am thankful to have a flexible schedule. Sometimes my everyday life has greater complications as so many others would attest to. My work is informed by current cultural and political events. It seems we all are in a state of panic, fatigue and hopelessness. It’s hard to ignore the fires we are all experiencing, and for that to have no affect on the things we are making. I will say that sometimes it’s difficult to speak to this while you’re in it, but much of my work these days is flavored by anxiousness and a desperate desire to hold on to the positive things we have in our lives.