In recent years, Ruby Neri has become known for ceramic sculptures born of an ecstatic, humorous, sexually charged, and formally complex vision of the female body. She has concurrently been using pastels and pencil to produce two-dimensional works that take on related thematic material. Working against the backdrop of modernist legacies of painting and drawing––including Bay Area Figuration, Fauvism, and German Expressionism––she develops compositions in which her figures and their environments are united in fields of swirling color or tone. Bodies and the surrounding atmospheres are, if not indistinguishable, revealed to be parts of the same abiding force, one whose various articulations materialize not only as visual phenomena like shapes and textures, but also as emotions and moods.
Neri’s new pastels can be divided into two basic types, with some depicting groups of women arranged in tableaux that favor loose geometry and abstraction over representational realism, and others devoted to single, monumental characters that display clear links to her sculptures. Her pencil drawings bridge both elements in their intricate narrative motifs: all-over, chiaroscuro-like rendering animates each visionary scene as perceptual pattern and form. Works from this intimately scaled series were featured in a 2018 two-person exhibition, with Alicia McCarthy, at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
Painting and drawing have been integral parts of Neri’s project since the beginning of her career, including during her formative years as a street artist in San Francisco, where her images were inscribed on the outdoor surfaces of the urban landscape. Over the last 15 years, she has made groups of oil paintings and drawings in various media, allowing images and mark-making strategies to flow freely between her flat and sculptural works. Of course, the ceramic, vessel-based objects that have garnered much acclaim recently are as defined by their bravura drawing and painting—Neri engraving their surfaces and spraying each with glazes—as they are by their sensuous, biomorphic volumes.
Aside from their merits as bold experiments in composition, and as open documents in which sex and vulnerability are given freedom to roam, the artist's works on paper are testaments to the true breadth of their creator’s vision. While Neri focuses on the body as a centralizing trope, her ultimate subject is an entire world, one where creativity and abundance are the sources of power, and ferocity is woven through with joy.
In 2018, Ruby Neri (b. 1970, San Francisco; lives and works in Los Angeles) was the subject of a two-person exhibition with Alicia McCarthy at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), Berkeley, California. Recent and forthcoming group exhibitions include New Time: Art and Feminism in the 21st Century, BAMPFA (2020); Punch, Jeffrey Deitch, New York (2018); The Domestic Plane: New Perspectives on Tabletop Art Objects | Objects Like Us, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut (2018); Midtown, Lever House, New York (2017); Villa of Mysteries, Los Angeles Museum of Art (2016); Napa Valley Collects, Napa Valley Museum, Yountville, California (2016); NO MAN'S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, Rubell Family Collection, Miami (2015); Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California, Oakland Museum of California in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2014); The Oracle, The Underground Museum, Los Angeles (2014); Energy That is All Around: Mission School, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, and San Francisco Art Institute (2013-14); Busted, High Line Art, New York (2013); and Made in L.A. 2012, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2012).