Inside Chris Rucker's Artful Design
The functional versus nonfunctional form, furniture versus sculpture, pedestrian versus precious are all expressed through Rucker's work. Whether he's creating a clothing rack for our shop, an installation piece of woven moving blankets in his latest solo show, or a chair created out of strand board, his techniques often vacillate between the traditional (turning wood, for instance) with contemporary ideas (his wooden security cameras). In other words, the materials, processes, and applications become metaphors within themselves.
We stopped by Rucker's Chinatown loft to gain some insight on the brains and hands behind his thoughtful work, and chat about his current artwork showing at Industry Gallery, at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles (on display until November 13).
[Rucker in his Chinatown loft.]
"Growing up, my mother made quilts, and my father is a pretty good woodworker, but he also carved and made sculpture. I came to New York [from Connecticut] to do sculpture and found my way through trades, construction, woodworking, design, and back to art. In 1996, I moved to Red Hook, and within six months I was working for a general contractor doing renovations in Manhattan. I did that with him for 3 or 4 years and it gave me a starter course on plumbing, electrical, woodworking, and construction. I started acquiring my own clients through meeting people in downtown New York, and moved to this loft here in 1998 -- and that opened a lot of doors in terms of the types of people I was meeting. People wanted someone who was creative minded who could do construction in their lofts on small budgets, and I fit that bill. Some of those clients ended up being the most influential and longest lasting, including Steven Klein. When I started making furniture, he was one of the first interested in it, and subsequently he used it in his photography. That was a huge accelerator for me."
"My clients are creative individuals, photographers or artists, that when talking about a bookcase or a shelf, want to talk about it with reference to art or film -- to be able to have a conversation about it, to have a dialogue about what we are creating."
"Initially, I came to make nonfunctional sculpture, but I think my work adopted a lot of the material choices that I would have found in the construction side of things. For instance, my first furniture line was made from strand board, which is very much a construction material, rather than woodworking -- certainly not a furniture material. I’ve approached my sculpture with using material from the industrial side of things, rather than the finished fine art material side of things."
"Everybody was hot for Donald Judd from the mid to late 90s, so I was basically creating Donald Judd knock-offs for clients. Strangely enough, in that process, I had to make prototypes to get the proportions right because I was creating these works by just looking at pictures of it. So instead of making it out of finished material, I was making it out of strand board. That’s was spurred me on to see if I could make furniture that you could sit on and would not collapse, with a lesser material."
"At some point I realized I needed to worry less about what it was I was making, and being more into making whatever was of interest to me. Whether that was sculpture or furniture, or whatever work I was taking on, I was finding a way to make those things mine, but also interesting to my client."
About moving from furniture to textile...
"I like to be naive of some element of what I’m doing, because you get to a place where, even though you’ve mastered it, in a way, it becomes more difficult. It’s about being curious about different materials and different processes. I like to have other things I’m working at that I’m a complete novice at, textile has been that for me. That’s just something I’ve picked up and started to try. Being at that stage of any process I really enjoy, because it’s simple again. You don’t get caught up in taking in knowledge of what things are and what they should be, you’re back at that beginning place. That’s what drives me to play around with all sorts of stuff."
"All the textile work begins from moving blankets. My initial set of quilts I made was my dozen moving blankets that I had worked with for years. They had the marks of wear and tear on them. I also started to do upholstery with them. All the sculptures are made from used moving blankets."
[Pieces of moving blankets used for quilting.]
"What made sense to me was to use a textile material that I was surrounded with, within my everyday work environment. And we have stacks of those moving blankets, whether we put them down when we’re painting, or when we're doing construction. It was a logical step. If I was going to combine this construction material with a textile, it wasn’t going to be leather."
"When I did that first set of quilts, the blankets had marks of their history, but it’s also my history. I had used them, I had done that to them. For me to take that, and not just discard them, but actually make a quilt out of them -- something you do on a special occasion, like it’s a precious heirloom."
Discussing his wooden security cameras...
"I did a series of security cameras, and I still do them time to time. That was a process that I wanted to try, which was turning wood. The security camera started to make sense, it was fun to turn on the blade. That was sort of how a process opens you up to an idea -- the idea of that false sense of security is what I started thinking of. It was kind of tied into the idea of comforters, the idea of a quilt, the idea of a security camera, how they are more ideas than they are realities. I don’t really see them as a design or an art object to sell, so much as a thing to put up around town, like graffiti. The whole idea of the illusion of security, the idea that it’s just a fallacy."
"When I'm creating, a lot of times it’s curiosity towards a process, but I’m always applying those basic ideas I’ve had about making work. I can’t get away from a string of ideas that I have, it ultimately always comes through. I can draw a line through all the different work I’ve ever done. It’s a language you’re creating. The way I’m articulating work in the store, how the steel meets the wood, for instance, is the same as how the pieces of the quilt meet. It’s attention to how materials meet."
The following photos are from Rucker's current show happening in LA: