EK Interview: Jonny Ruzzo

Jonny Ruzzo - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Jonny Ruzzo  is another fantastic artist who’s work will be making it’s way into the EK Summer Art Show.  His work is as vibrant and colorful as it is meaningful, through his art Jonny explores a great number of questions, regarding sexuality, gender differences, success, companionship and much more.  Check out his interview:


Jonny Ruzzo - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog
What part of Rhode Island are you from? What was it like growing up? How did you spend your time as a kid?

I grew up in a town called Coventry, and it’s actually quite large for being in such a small state. It’s your basic middle-American town—lots of white people, and a pretty generic upbringing all the way through graduating high school. When I was really young, I spent a lot of time with my older sister up until about middle school, when we sort of made our own separate groups of friends. I didn’t do any extra-curricular activities, but I loved drawing and painting in my free time ever since I knew what a paintbrush was.

In your ‘About Me’ you state that you ask a lot of questions and that painting is your attempt at an answer, what questions have you been asking yourself lately? And how have you been answering?

One of the things I am trying to figure out through painting is why I perceive certain things as beautiful. A lot of these questions have no answer, really, but they help me to delve deeper into expanding my own thoughts and theories on my attractions. For example, I try to find out what it is about certain colors that I like so much, or why things that glimmer captivate me so intensely. I also ask simpler questions regarding the work itself, like “has what I’m making been done before, and if it has, how can I make it new and unique to myself?”. In the process of creating, I don’t think about a lot of the natural reactions that I’m making, so I also ask myself questions to better understand my own process and reasoning.

Jonny Ruzzo - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

What was the question that inspired ‘Descending’? Is the subject anyone in particular? Why are his hands and body out of focus while his face is much clearer? What emotion did you feel when you were painting the piece? Do you feel the same emotion looking at it now? What emotion do you expect your audience to feel when looking at the piece?

I painted this when I was in my senior year at SVA (2012), and as an illustration major, the assignment was to read a short story and then create an image for it. The story is titled “Decending”, written by Thomas M. Disch in the 60’s, and taking place not too long after credit cards were first introduced to the U.S.. The story focuses on the downfalls of consumerism. I always use reference photos for my commercial and personal work, and this portion of the process usually ends up deciding a lot of what the final image will look like. I think of it as my sketch phase. I took hundreds of photos for this painting, and in one of them, my hands were blurred from adjusting the bag on my head and moving them away in the 2-seconds before the automatic timer on my camera goes off. It was just an accident that felt right. It added another element of movement and mystery to the piece. Although the person is technically me because of taking reference photos of myself, it’s the main character in the book, although even that is irrelevant as I think the image works both with or without the context of the story. I have a strong connection with this painting; I remember the whole process so clearly, and each phase went so smoothly that it felt wrong, like I didn’t paint it but it painted itself. Since painting it over two years ago, I think it is still the best thing I’ve created.

What about bright colors do you like? Have you always liked bright colors? What do different colors mean to you? Are you a student of color theory? How do you use different colors to engage different emotions in your viewer?

I really love bright colors because they spark something inside my head, almost like a sixth sense. Typically when I leave my apartment, I am surrounded by a lack of color, and maybe it’s for that reason that when I see a color that grabs me it makes it all the more exciting. This isn’t to say I don’t like colors that aren’t bright—I love black as much as I like neon yellow, and I can appreciate the beauty of a gray sidewalk. But when I have a palette in front of me and can choose any colors that I want to work with, I wonder “why wouldn’t I use all of these beautiful colors that I don’t get to see every day?”. I didn’t study color theory, and I don’t try to overthink what each color means to me. There are certain hues that grab my attention for a few months and then change, and certain color palettes will infuse my work for certain periods of time, but it’s always changing and probably subconsciously depends on things like my mood, my experiences, the seasons, etc.. I use color in my work more for myself than for the viewer, so rather than try to make someone feel something through the colors and textures, I present them in a way that I enjoy and hope maybe they might have some reaction out of it as well, whether it be similar to mine or their own experience entirely. If they get nothing out of it, then at least I can explain my perceptions of beauty through the work.

Jonny Ruzzo - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

What’s going on in Cut? What about that moment is meaningful to you? Why did you feel the urge to illustrate it? What happened before this moment? What will happen after?

The concept changed a lot over the course of its creation. Originally I was going to do an illustration for a friend’s zine with the theme simply being “skin”. Skin led me to think of nudity and then for whatever reason I thought of penises. The drawing changed further along as I went to take reference photos, at which point I ended up making something else for the zine, so this became a personal drawing to take wherever I wanted. When I started composing reference together, I was creating a story in my head about two men that are in a relationship, and after having sex they decide that the one guy needs a haircut, so the other grabs the kitchen scissors, wraps the bathroom towel around him, and starts cutting his hair in the nude. I guess this illustration falls into the realm of fantasy—something I’ve never really experienced, but enjoy fantasizing about (in the same way that I fantasize about marrying Marlon Brando).

Jonny Ruzzo - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Do you feel that gay and straight communities are mostly homogenous or mostly disparate? If so, why are there bars dedicated to assertion of a non-heterosexual lifestyle? Why are there no professedly straight bars? Do you think gay bars would be necessary if heterosexuality wasn’t the assumed sexual orientation? Is that not effectively self-imposed segregation? How can gay and straight communities come together, or do you think that is something that needs to happen?

For me, I think of sexuality more as something that’s just part of me and not so much a lifestyle; I have brown hair, I love donuts, I’m attracted to men, etc.. I think that a lot of stereotypes of gay/straight communities hold true, but there are exceptions to every rule. I don’t think they are completely homogenized, although they could seem that way since most people assume certain types of people are gay/straight. As a gay man, I don’t actually have many gay friends, especially really close gay friends. I hang out mostly with women, and feel the most comfortable around them.
I don’t think gay bars are meant to block anyone in or out, but really it’s just a way to make it easier for gay people to find other gay people to hook up with. I live in New York City, and it’s safe to say that a lot of people go to bars in the hopes of finding someone that they will make out with, hook up with, marry, etc.. A gay person going to a normal bar might find a few gay people, and the chances that they will want to hook up with one of these people is not as great as if they go to a gay bar, and 98% of the people are gay, then they have more options, and they don’t have to worry about hitting on someone who isn’t gay, because I do agree with you that, sadly, heterosexuality is the assumed sexual preference until decided otherwise. I’m not a very sexual person and prefer to stay away from gay bars. I’ve joked about being asexual for so long that I’m starting to believe it.
I really do believe that, overall, gay & straight communities are intertwined, but again, I live in NY. I just hope I can be around in 60 years when sexual preference isn’t even a question, and children of the generation will look back and say “wait, it was only legal for a man and woman to get married in the early 2000’s?!”.

Jonny Ruzzo - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Where did you get the subjects for your series Norms? How has the series helped you contemplate your attraction to women as a gay man?

While in school, I took a class with T.M. Davy, and he gave us an assignment to create work inspired by the poem “Historic Evening” by Arthur Rimbaud. The poem mentioned Norns, which I had never heard of, and after researching I read that Norns are female gods that rule the fates of men. This alone was such an interesting concept to me so I ran with it. Then when it came time to make work for a solo show, I stuck with the Norns, as I really felt a connection to the idea of the power of the female figure, my attraction to women, and my perceptions of beauty. This series has definitely helped me understand that my attraction to women stems from idolization, and envy.

Tell us about the piece you are sending to Minna. What else have you been working on lately? What do you have planned for the future?

There will be 2 Norns that I will be sending to the gallery, as well as “Descending”. Lately, I’ve been working on some new smaller paintings for a four-person show titled “Floralia”, presented by Sloan Fine Art The show will take in Los Angeles in May, and revolves around ideas of springtime and flora. I’ve been very focused the past few months on commercial work, so I’ve also been doing a lot of drawing and having a lot of fun with it. I’m hoping to try and incorporate this into my gallery work.

Jonny Ruzzo - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Where was the best place you went today and what made it the best?

I took my dog for a walk today and the weather is so stunningly perfect—60’s and sunny. I’m easy to please so that’s enough to make my day. Besides taking my dog outside, I usually go many days without leaving my apartment.

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