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Last chance to see Ruben Ochoa's latest twist on his urban landscape obsession: Giving rust new life

Last chance to see Ruben Ochoa's latest twist on his urban landscape obsession: Giving rust new life
At Susan Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, an exhibition by L.A. artist Ruben Ochoa revels inthe decay of the industrial. (Robert Wedemeyer / Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects)

Ruben Ochoa has always been an artist intrigued by the base materials of the urban landscape. He has transformed humble loading pallets into alien-like forms. Created vast gridded installations out of rebar. And used concrete and soil in ways that make it seem as if the earth is collapsing.

His latest works, on view at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects through Saturday, are more intimate and restrained — especially for an artist whose installations can sometimes be measured in tons.

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Ochoa walked me through the new series late last week: Paintings that on first (and even second) impact look like elegant slabs of Cor-Ten steel, but which upon closer examination reveal themselves to be adroitly applied layers of rust on linen.

If Ochoa's earlier works were about turning the materials of construction on themselves, these are more about the process of decay that inevitably happens to these substances over time.

"It came naturally out of the other work, from working with concrete," the L.A. artist explains. "Like everything, it changes over time. It starts to crack; it crumbles. That's part of the process. Things change."

Despite the demure format, the paintings nonetheless touch on aspects of the urban environment that Ochoa has long been obsessed with — something that he describes as "the dysfunction and function of civic engineering."

Rust is all around us: In weathered chain-link, ragged industrial sites and the old cars that await repair on many a California driveway. Ochoa, who is decidedly low-key for an artist who creates so many aggressively ambitious works, sees it as a social and economic signifier.

"It's something you see in a certain type of neighborhood, among a certain economic class," he explains. "The question for me is how can I take something like that from the city and abstract it?"

The exhibition also features a series of steel floor sculptures that evoke uprooted slabs of sidewalk concrete, conjuring an urban landscape that has reached the limit of its useful life — a reminder, perhaps, that even the strongest materials become brittle and weak, and that the mighty environments we build for ourselves are, in all actuality, quite fragile.

"The Season of Darkness," 2016, rust on linen over panel, by Ruben Ochoa. The paintings — at both first and second glance — appear to be slabs of Cor-Ten steel.
"The Season of Darkness," 2016, rust on linen over panel, by Ruben Ochoa. The paintings — at both first and second glance — appear to be slabs of Cor-Ten steel. (Robert Wedemeyer / Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects)
Ochoa has frequently worked with industrial materials — from concrete to chain-link. Seen here: "Verdigris Hiding," a paper work from 2015.
Ochoa has frequently worked with industrial materials — from concrete to chain-link. Seen here: "Verdigris Hiding," a paper work from 2015. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
Ochoa's steel floor sculptures evoke chunksof broken concrete.
Ochoa's steel floor sculptures evoke chunksof broken concrete. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
A detail from "Casting Binaries," 2015, a work on paper that uses rust to evoke industrial forms.
A detail from "Casting Binaries," 2015, a work on paper that uses rust to evoke industrial forms. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)
In the foreground, "all the dinosaurs are sleeping," a steel sculpture from 2016. At rear: "Glyphs in the night," a rust painting from 2016.
In the foreground, "all the dinosaurs are sleeping," a steel sculpture from 2016. At rear: "Glyphs in the night," a rust painting from 2016. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Ruben Ochoa, "Tripping the Light Fantastick," is on view at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects through Saturday. 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, vielmetter.com.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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