Not in Exile: Lisa Ruyter


Lisa Ruyter’s paintings are based on individual photographs that she takes, document parties, fashion events and street scenes. She transcribes certain areas of these images on canvas using a muted color palette evoking Pop. What at first appear like simple but giant-size paint-by-number works slowly reveal themselves to be complex arrangements of flat color. Her style freezes the image’s narrative and pushes it towards abstraction.

Ruyter was born in 1968 in Washington D.C., studied at MCPS Art Center in Maryland, as well as at the School of Visual Arts and Hunter College, New York. She has had more than 25 solo shows. She lived and worked in New York for several years, when she became well-known in the art scene as an artist-practitioner – someone who makes art, blogs about it, and has also run several gallery spaces, including co-directing Team Gallery. When many artists would have rested on their laurels in New York, in 2003 Ruyter moved her studio to Vienna and also opened a gallery there.

RUPERT GOLDSWORTHY: Lisa, What prompted your move to Vienna in 2003?

LISA RUYTER: I went to Vienna at the beginning of the year to look at Georg Kargl’s space in preparation for my second exhibition there. I was also visiting Thaddaeus Ropac’s gallery in Salzburg because I had just started to work with them. On this trip I got to know a bit about the scene. I decided to open a little gallery space, Galerie Lisa Ruyter, and this went so well that after a few restless years, I ended up moving my studio to Vienna as well. At the beginning I knew about three people and did not speak the language.

GOLDSWORTHY: After seven years there, do you feel you are living “in exile” from New York?

RUYTER: It is hard to imagine moving back, but “exile” sounds so much like disconnection, or rejection, and that is not how I experience being here. Vienna fits me well, and the quality of life is phenomenal. I have been fortunate to be accepted in a very nice manner, and it energizes me to imagine that I could make a significant difference in the scene. My father was born in Amsterdam, so perhaps it is not such an odd thing for me to be drawn overseas. LEFT: NOT YET TITLED (SELF-PORTRAIT), 2010. COURTESY GEORG KARGL, VIENNA. IMAGE CREDIT: REGINA HUEGLI, VIENNA.

GOLDSWORTHY: How do you feel your work has changed living in Vienna?

RUYTER: The work has changed as it often does, by a variety of influences. I would say that the biggest change that I feel is in the conditions of working and living and I imagine that must have some influence on what comes out, but I cannot say what that is specifically. Here I have the space to be independent in my actions. Vienna seems to have this funny thing after a few years – I believe that you will become what you truly tend towards here, which in some people is a very dark picture that they understandably try to avoid. Personally I value this room for introspection; it seems to fill something that went missing in me. I guess time will tell if this is good for my work.

GOLDSWORTHY: Tell us about your persistence of your style and day-to-day practice in the studio.

RUYTER: This “persistent style” you refer to, which I suppose means the bright, flat colors with black outline, is intended to contain a number of things in place, including their existence as paintings. In a way, the persistence is meant as a stand-in for artistic medium, so it is not exactly photography and it is not exactly painting, a break from media-specificity. And so in fact, it is not even meant to be a style, even though it functions like one.

GOLDSWORTHY: Tell us a bit about your drawing and its particularly “editorial” quality…

RUYTER: I would say that the way I draw carries more style, which is what I choose to leave in or out when I work from a projected photo, and perhaps my color sense. My primary cue in all of that comes from Robert Smithson. Eventually I hope that people will think outside of these “specific objects” for the meanings behind them. I am interested in the function of images, which is changing radically to reflect changes in social structures and thinking processes. There should be image forensics studies.

GOLDSWORTHY: What is your actual work process like?

RUYTER: I like to work on a lot of things at one time. The paintings might looked pre-planned but they are not at all. I am in fact not capable of that. So if I have a lot of different things at the same time, I can move from one to the other when I get stuck. There is always a kind of mindless, physical brushwork when I want a mental break, because many colors can take up to 10 coats or more to achieve the consistency that I am after. My process lets me find solutions and challenges in a number of places, in the color, the photography, the drawing, and the editing.

GOLDSWORTHY: How do you work in your studio?

RUYTER: I keep moving the studio around, the way some people rearrange their houses when they are restless: trying different spaces for different activities. I always have a little corner somewhere that is pretty private to try something experimental that I don’t want anyone to see. Often I have an urge to work in my bedroom, which must be some yearning to find the kind of inspiration from my earlier years, which were less affected by career concerns and artistic personal history. I get incredibly efficient when I am busy, especially when this involves a lot of social interaction. LEFT: FIVE SECONDS TO SPARE, 2009. PRIVATE COLLECTION, COURTESY GERING & LOPEZ. IMAGE CREDIT: REGINA HUEGLI, VIENNA.

GOLDSWORTHY: How do you find the audience and response vary between Vienna and New York?

RUYTER: I have had more commercial success in Europe, even before I moved here. New York definitely has a much better feedback loop. You can tell what people really think about your work, there are more chances for reviews, and now blog postings. However for me, after 18 years there, this became an insular and confusing perspective. In Vienna I feel that I have more of a response to my persona, rather than the work, probably because of the way that I entered the scene, and because of having already exhibited here before living here. I have a group of friends in many different fields, so many of them are just learning how to approach contemporary art, and sometimes I am their filter for that, which is a very different experience than New York. My current situation gives me a nice perspective to make work that addresses a particularly American identity, which I what I am doing now. It is interesting to work on such a series having no representation in the US and therefore no particular idea of where it may eventually be exhibited.