When I first was told about Kris Ruhs, the American-born maker with the German-sounding name, I was immediately intrigued. Apparently Ruhs is a ‘magpie-maker’. He starts work in his studio from 7am each morning until 10pm each night, works seven days a week and everything you see at art gallery, design depot, bookshop, publishing house, boutique hotel, eatery and (deep breath!) hangout for the elite destination pitstop that is 10 Corso Como comes from this seemingly chaotic, maddening, dog and cat filled studio – ranging from the cups, the porcelain, the gates, the roof, the ceiling to the carpets, the napkins, the menus, the lamps, the jewellery, the fabrics, the ceramics, the screens and the flowers.
The Wapping Project brings Ruhs and his oeuevre to London to coincide with the London Design Festival, where he will occupy the Boiler House, one room displaying majestic installations, the other showing films of his wonderful Milanese workshops, giving you some idea of this amazing and inspiring artist.
When I visited, the exhibition wasn’t fully installed but you certainly got an inkling of what’s in store. To start with, Wapping Power Station is brimful of soul in a way that makes Tate Modern suddenly look like a massive, impersonal Tesco Superstore in comparison. It is the perfect framework for Kris Ruhs, and seeing the exhibition take shape in the atmosphere-laden boiler room was very exciting. Your eyes were instantly drawn to a large-scale chandelier, long tubes resembling a weird hybrid of antlers/sharks/thorns/branches. Made from ceramics with hollows for the LED-lights that were placed inside, they were suspended from an amazing wrought-iron spiral. The whole effect was just stunning, more so when you saw the light reflected in the huge, mirrored bowl-like seat underneath. This rotates, making the whole experience even more trippy.
There’s also a maze made from thousands of what I at first thought was industrial strength ribbon splattered with black paint; turns out it is made from recycled tirewall, painstakingly cut into 12 foot long ribbons, hung and then doused with red and pink-hued paint. These are again suspended from a wrought-iron spiral, creating a continuous curtain that guides you into the centre of the spiral and then allows you to leave again, a mesmerizing sensation for sure.
Panels of pleated, paint-splattered metal sheets were meticulously sewn together with wire by two of his assistants and hung, creating a thick multi-layered, shimmering, reflective surface that you could still see through the occasional gaps. Where it meets the ground, paint had been poured out, creating a sensual marble-like effect.
Volt Café caught up with Kris Ruhs and his right hand, Caterina Amato, who has assisted him for 13 years.
Volt Café: How did it all start?
Kris Ruhs: It all started with Carla (Sozzani). I was working as an artist in NYC, then we decided to construct 10 Corso Como. In my studio I create everything – from illustrations to jewelry to furniture. Everything you see leads to something else. I might be making an item of furniture and then there’s a detail where you think, hang on, that would amazing as a piece of jewelry. So that turns into something else.
VC: You are living the dream of many a creative person… to be able to create constantly without having to worry about running out of space and having an outlet to display and sell your work in.
KR: That is true. But it has been a long journey. I feel that you have to earn the right to make it pay.
VC: Yes, a lot of kids expect it to happen instantly, puff! Or else they loose faith.
KR: I sort of blame the modern culture, we’re bombarded with images and accounts of success all the time, that makes it hard to be creative sometimes.
VC: How do you deal with that?
KR: Too much ‘access’ is not good; I shut myself off a little bit. I like art exhibitions rather than the internet. Really good art should open a door to your imagination.
VC: How do you define what you do?
KR: I’m like an artisan working. I make everything myself.
VC: So you’re not like Warhol or Hirst, with an army of assistants churning out the art?
KR: No! I have 3 assistants. When I go to the studios of guys like that, I sort of feel embarrassed for them.
Caterina Amato has been working for Ruhs for 13 years. She was working for a candle carver who supplied 10 Corso Como when it was suggested she should work for Ruhs. The job interview consisted of Sozzani asking her if she spoke English, which she did and whether she’d been to art school (she hadn’t).
Her first day was amazing and she walked home in a daze, confused whether she’d actually get paid for this. The next day she told Ruhs that she’d come there and invest her time and in return he’d teach her. In her he found the raw clay that could be turned into something special. In fact, ceramics became Caterina’s specialty after she’d taught herself, “making many, many mistakes!” She has even built her own kiln.
It is she who has created the chandelier made out of ceramics. It took her 3 months and each ‘tube’ is different owing to the Raku technique employed, resulting in an unpredictable mix of coarse-feeling black areas interspersed with veiny, ivory-colured lushly smooth areas. Raku firing is a process in which work is removed from the kiln at bright red heat and subjected to post-firing reduction (or smoking) by being placed in containers of sawdust, which blackens raw clay and causes crazing in the glaze surface. This firing process has a huge draw for many potters because of its excitement and unpredictability. The results Caterina generated are certainly beautiful and very lovely to touch. Ruhs is very enthusiastic about clay and ceramics, he sees it as a beautiful material, something that is very natural and has a beautiful communication.
Volt Café: Caterina, what’s it like to work for Kris?
Caterina Amato: Really nice! The studio is like a family… Kris has his cats, I bring my dogs, I cook food and you know, it’s like a home. I can choose what materials I work with and I love working with the ceramics. Ceramics is my calling.
VC: What happens to all the things you have made? Do you get to keep pieces you love after an exhibition has finished? I imagine your home is like a mini Corso Como…
CA: No! It gets packed away and put in storage. Sometimes it is sent to another exhibition. It makes me sad when they end up in a box! I remember every single exhibition and how we made it, so it lives on in my mind.
VC: Caterina and Kris, how do you both keep the inspiration flowing?
CA: I feel a bit flat after the big projects. All the adrenaline. But you obviously need to start something new, it just takes me a few days to get going again.
KR: I always do lots of different things so I never get stuck and I never have a set plan. It’s important to keep on doing things and never get fazed by all the logistics.
THE WAPPING PROJECT
Kris Ruhs | Landing On Earth
Till 21st October 2012
Wapping Hydraulic Power Station
London E1W 3SG
00 44 207 680 2080
Words by Anna Bang
Tags10 Corso Como, anna bang, Carla Sozzani, Caterina Amato, Kris Ruhs, The Wapping Project,