This two-person show is a perfect exhibition to check out as summer slowly comes to an end. Cohen and Ruiz are two rising, Chicago-bred artists who both use warm, vibrant colors and landscaped scenes to evoke memories of hot days spent outdoors.
In Ruiz’s “Deep Street Breathing in New Orleans,” for example, green and yellow inks overlap in the background to create a saturated spread of color. An oversized tropical plant makes up the majority of the scene while sparse text, such as “Deep Street Breathing,” creates a heavy mood.
Ruiz, who recently relocated to the United Kingdom, takes comic-book-page mock-ups and adds splashes of ink in rich hues, resulting in compositions that feel both familiar and disconcerting. Text boxes lie empty or contain open-ended, emotive messages. Storyboard squares are cut unevenly or are otherwise interrupted. The mostly outdoor scenes are free of people, giving the pieces an ominous tone, as if something is about to unfold in the next unseen square.
Cohen’s work, mostly two-dimensional but with one sculpture, similarly impresses. His pieces center around people, sitting in stark contrast to Ruiz’s lone landscapes. The presence of the artist’s hand in Cohen’s work is beautiful and unmistakable. The hand-lettering in “Be Yourself” exudes a self-affirming 1980s vibe, from its Cross Colours palette to the decidedly analog feel of the illustration. The portrait, “Fisk,” uses a mix of blues and greens for the wooded background, with the subject centered in the foreground. Lines of dark green suggest blades of grass while blocks of blue add depth to the sky.
The works of both artists feel smart and well conceived, without many traces of the looming specter of art school. They offer a refreshing body of work in a city ripe with art academia. Although both also brandish impressive credentials; Cohen is a recent SAIC graduate, while Ruiz has an MFA from the University of Chicago. Cohen is heading to Ox-Bow for a four-week stint, where he is sure to make work that continues to refresh. (Kerry Cardoza)
Through October 10 at Roots & Culture, 1034 North Milwaukee.
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana Unversity, and Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition. Formerly, he was Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.