"Low Down: New Works on Paper by Ricardo Vicente Jose Ruiz"

How the strange visions in this Not Gallery exhibition relate to one another is difficult to say, but they're all both ancient and immediate

Underneath the flowers p. 1 by Ricardo Vicente Jose Ruiz

In Ricardo Vicente Jose Ruiz's Underneath the flowers p. 1, three creatures/men have emerged onto a sea-battered hill at the rumor of something glorious. This glory they arc their eyes toward may be one of joy or it may be one of horror. Their world is primeval, a place of legend and bravery, and so they've come prepared for anything. They do not feel fear, because they have known it all before.

They are shaman-warriors. They carry no weapons (at least not that we can see), but they carry color like plumage, and all the magic of their history. The shaman-warrior on the left wears a blue cap with a glittering silver medallion (an effect echoed in many of Ruiz's pieces), eyes wide with exaltation like he hasn't slept in years, kept awake with the hallucinations of prophecy. The shaman-warrior on the right is gray-faced. His eyes are large, like his brother's. His gaze, however, is measured, patient, like whatever comes has been expected for an age. Gold rings his neck, and more silver.

Between them is perhaps the greatest of the three, a shaman-warrior with a snout like an elephant, only instead of gray, it is a deep purple, a maroon, maybe brown, undulating in and out of tones, testament to Ruiz's sometimes fine, sometimes booming hand with watercolor. The snout reaches up to beckon or make an offering. He is on his knees in the mud.

Behind them, sailing through their sky, is a blue god, its wings expansive, its body muscled and thick. Its eyes are blank, its posture a challenge to what may be coming. It's difficult to say from here whether this god is an enemy or a friend. It's difficult to say.

It's difficult to say whether this god on its red ship, sailing on a dark cloud through a fiery sky – streaked with rain, or maybe some other, more ethereal stuff – is in awe the way the shaman-warriors are, or if it is angry, or simply watching, as a god may tend to do, when the events of men are too small for its concern.

It's difficult to say whether the spatters of red at the shaman-warriors' feet are blood falling from the sky; if the purple, yellow, and red surface they stand on is really a hill, or storm clouds; if the sparkling air is poisonous or life-giving. I don't know what that thing in the sky above the god is; it looks like a bat tied to an emerald-studded string. I don't know exactly what these creatures, these shaman-warriors, have to do with the imposing figure in Ruiz's Mothers knuckles nearby (strands of gray hair collaged to its head, multiple switchblades at the ready, like a character from a motorcycle Popol Vuh), or with the Death Bird in Last Fall blazoned with the words "NEIL YOUNG 69," or with any of his other visions. They would all appear to people the same world, if different spaces in it, but it's difficult to say.

I do know how it feels to me: This story is ancient and immediate. It is my own past, present, and future.

Each of Ruiz's images spins tales as dumbfounding and lingering as this one. The artist statement says the works are made from "watercolor, gouache, ink, glitter, and found objects on paper." I think they're made from something more, and it's this cryptic thing, menacing and wise, that makes me wonder.

"Low Down: New Works on Paper by Ricardo Vicente Jose Ruiz"

Not Gallery, 5305 Bolm, Studio 8
Through July 23

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Not Gallery, Ricardo Vicente Jose Ruiz

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