Finding his muse in ancient allegories, João Ruas‘ latest illustrations depict mythological characters in contemporary settings. Think a phantasmagoric Zeus set against the backdrop of a solar windmill farm and you have an idea of what to expect. It’s these deeply compelling and unique images that have seduced his audience and made us fall in love with not only the artwork, but the equally compelling and unique João Ruas himself. With his current exhibition entitled “Yore” on display recently at Thinkspace (see our opening night coverage here), Hi-Fructose talks to the artist about the inspiration behind the show, his enchantment with mythology and the artists who invigorate him. – Stephanie Chefas
The title of your recent show, “Yore” suggests that these works are an ode to antiquity or a bygone era. What’s the inspiration behind your latest exhibit?The title of your current show, “Yore” suggests that these works are an ode to antiquity or a bygone era. What’s the inspiration behind your latest exhibit?
When coming to a general theme, I search for an open subject while I leave all the wonderment and deeper grounds to each piece to deal with. It must be said, however, that an open theme can be also a trap if it’s doesn’t have enough strong boundaries. I have no problems with these borders, because I came to a resolution that they are personal to me. I love mythology, the ancient times and time itself. I am not and will never get tired cease to admire all the different faces they can present at a single glance.
Myth is a reoccurring theme within your work; most notable shows being “Inner Myth” and “Yore”. When did your fascination with ancient myths begin and what personal resonance do they hold for you?
I can’t really say when the fascination started… it’s one of those things. One can say that mythology and folklore are in our society DNA and by living in groups we will eventually have a contact. It was a way to deal with the great mysteries before science could have a say. It could be easily – and actually was in most cases – mixed with religion, but I firmly believe that these metaphors were created not for personal gains but as a desperate way to understand what’s around and inside men. It was strong and still resonates, I just don’t know for how long.
Which ancient myth or mythological being do you find most intriguing and why?
The tales of Athena (Minerva) have so many layers and ways to look at it that I always find myself going back to them. I guess her story, specially the birth, changed a lot through the years, to fit the moods because it is that powerful, the same way it happen with the books used by rites today.
Early modernist writers and poets re-created mythology to better suit our times (The Wasteland, Ulysses, etc.). How do you personally see myth upheld in the everyday modern world?
It’s still around, not as strong as it was but it’s a great source. As you mentioned, the connection in literature is always there, but in the world of visual arts its presence has been severely diminished during the last century, I guess – and I may be wrong – because of the intense use of myths between the 16th and 19th centuries. A prejudice was created by modernists, classic art and mythology as a theme were almost synonimous and this is exactly the point where writers can teach us: mythology is not only a theme but also a medium. You can adapt, transform and sculpt this medium and it will become relevant because it is that rich. Well, in my opinion, at least.
What are you suggesting when you depict mythical beings as otherworldly apparitions set against modern landscapes with power lines and solar power windmills?
I love technology, I do, but it does frighten me. It makes me afraid when I miss something I shouldn’t, that I counciously know it’s ultimately useless. Cables not only connect but tie us. We are becoming a mass of entranced beings around a rock.
Kaguyahime is a unique piece in that it references the Moon Princess from Japanese folklore. What inspired you to include an Asian myth among a show dedicated to Grecian mythology?
A few years ago I read the tale and it instantly created a bridge to Aphodite. It amazed me how different cultures, set apart by thousand of years and miles found a way to explain beauty through basically the same words and allegories.
You hold a great appreciation for the Golden Age illustrators and have been cited as admiring the work of contemporary artist, Kent Williams. What other artists move you and what aspects of their work do you find most intriguing?
I enjoy many artists, even though I am in the last years trying to be away from extreme contemplation, I think it can be a very destructive thing when you need to create. Anyway… Fuyuko Matsui, she is breathtaking.
You’ve described your childhood in Brazil as filled with outside adventures and countless hours of coloring with crayons. A great environment for creativity. Was anyone else in your family an artist and did they help nurture your talents?
I have a cousin that draws but has wandered to the design world. Apart from that, nobody said “go for it!” neither “stop it!” and I think it was perfect.
Brazil has a vivid history of creativity that goes beyond painting into the world of music and film. What are some Brazilian works outside the realm of painting that made an impression on you over the years?
I like the works and biography of the composer Villa-Lobos. I think he’s my favourite brazilian. I have a very critic view about Brazil though, I do think the arts here never recovered from the dictatorship years. I am not very popular among a lot of people due to my opinion regarding this subject, as you can guess.
You lived three years in London as a concept designer for games–a city quite different from your hometown of São Paulo. How did this cultural experience influence you as an artist?
A lot. Not only London (and it did) but also the fact that it was the first time I was spending a long time away from São Paulo in a non latin/mediterranean style of culture. It literally opened my eyes to new horizons that I thought never existed.
Tell us something about yourself we wouldn’t necessarily know.
This is a hard one… well, my left hand is half metal, literally. I will remove it this year which will put me away from drawing a couple of months.
If I were to spend the day with João, what could I expect?
My days are pretty much have the same contour and rhythm even though I rarely do the same things. At least once in a day I have to stop and randomly walk around the streets, have a coffee, wonder and see things no matter how busy I am… Painting is a lonely activity and this is necessary to bring my feet down to reality and tone down the escapism.