Stamford Advocate (Sunday)

Painter with­out a brush

RUBEN MAR­RO­QUIN TAKES EM­BROI­DERY TO THE NEXT LEVEL

- By Joel Lang

ABridge­port artist who trans­formed a fa­mil­iar Nor­walk land­scape has taken the Grand Prize in “Fiber 2020,” an ex­hi­bi­tion cur­rently at the Sil­ver­mine Art Cen­ter ded­i­cated to show­cas­ing the best in con­tem­po­rary fiber art from across the coun­try. The artist is Ruben Mar­ro­quin, who works out of a stu­dio in the down­town Ar­cade Mall build­ing. His win­ning en­try, ti­tled “View from Nor­walk,” is an em­broi­dery that looks east­ward across the Nor­walk River near its mouth to a far shore.

The em­broi­dery is large, 4 feet by 3 feet, and al­most min­i­mal­ist in com­po­si­tion, es­pe­cially com­pared to the home sam­plers of the past. The river, its cur­rent sug­gested by heavy blue thread run­ning side­ways, is in the fore­ground. The low-ly­ing, rocky shore di­vides the scene roughly in half.

From the shore rises the tell-tale struc­ture that iden­ti­fies the ac­tual lo­ca­tion. It is one of the old elec­tric tow­ers an­chor­ing the rail­road bridge that spans the river. In Mar­ro­quin’s “View,” the bridge is elim­i­nated and the tower

looks like an oil field drilling rig, spew­ing a gusher of red. It bil­lows into a bright, but omi­nous mush­room-shaped cloud.

Mar­ro­quin, who opened his stu­dio about seven years ago, re­gards his em­broi­dery as a form of paint­ing. “Some peo­ple call it fiber art. To me it’s ba­si­cally the same as paint­ing. In­stead of paint, you’re us­ing yarn,” he says.

When he con­ceived the “View from Nor­walk,” he in­tended the mush­room cloud to sug­gest a nu­clear ex­plo­sion. He didn’t an­tic­i­pate that by the time the Sil­ver­mine show opened in April, the red cloud might also be seen as a loom­ing vi­ral storm. “I think with the pan­demic and the nu­clear ex­plo­sion, it kind of fit the mo­ment,” he says.

Mar­ro­quin tells two sto­ries about how he came to make his prize piece. The first be­gins five years ago when he went with his part­ner, the Bridge­port artist Liz Squil­lace, to do a photo shoot in con­nec­tion with a job for a client, Spinaker Real Es­tate in South Nor­walk. The idea for the mush­room cloud came later, af­ter a photo taken from the rear of the Mar­itime Aquar­ium was turned into a screen print.

“I was hang­ing out at the Bar­num Pub­lic House and when I re­turned to the stu­dio I drew that mush­room cloud over the print. I drew it in a rush. Then I em­broi­dered it. The piece was a hit and I sold it to a friend,” he says.

When the call came for en­tries to the juried Sil­ver­mine show, he dug out the orig­i­nal screen print and be­gan a new larger ver­sion.

“I scaled up the tower and the bomb cloud, mak­ing it big­ger. And then I achieved by ac­ci­dent this very cool ef­fect, where it looked ki­netic,” he says. He at­tributes the ef­fect to the ver­ti­cal stitch­ing he used for the sky and mush­room cloud. “It al­most looked as if the bomb cloud were mov­ing up­wards. It also looked as if it were drip­ping down. There’s this move­ment.”

Mar­ro­quin’s other story goes back fur­ther, to his ed­u­ca­tion and in­flu­ences. Mar­ro­quin was born in Chicago in 1979, but grew up in Venezuela, where his mother still lives. (The con­di­tions there are as bad as re­ported, he says.) In art school, he wanted to paint but couldn’t af­ford the im­ported, good qual­ity ma­te­ri­als he needed. So he turned to fab­ric. “I said I’m go­ing to make my body of work with tex­tiles, mostly with the stitch­ing and em­broi­dery,” he re­mem­bers.

Among his in­spi­ra­tions were two cel­e­brated Venezue­lan artists, Je­sus Soto and Gertrude Gold­schmidt, known as Gego, both of whom are rep­re­sented in the “Sur mod­erno” ex­hi­bi­tion of ab­stract Latin Amer­i­can art at the Mu­seum of Modern Art. Both also are known for work that sug­gests move­ment. Soto’s was of spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance to “View from Nor­walk.”

“It re­minds me of some­thing I’ve had in my mind for many years,” Mar­ro­quin says, ex­plain­ing the ki­netic ef­fect of his em­broi­dery’s ver­ti­cal lines, “which is the work of Je­sus Soto.”

The mush­room cloud con­nects to a newer, much dif­fer­ent artist; Takashi Mu­rakami, whose car­toon­like paint­ings, more satir­i­cal than cute, of­ten fea­ture toad­stools and fanged fairies. A mea­sure of Mu­rakami’s pop cul­ture em­brace is that he cre­ated an an­i­mated video for the singer Bil­lie Eil­ish. Mar­ro­quin got to know Mu­rakami’s work a decade ago in Paris, where he spent a se­mes­ter on schol­ar­ship while en­rolled in the Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

“There’s an un­der­ly­ing mean­ing to his work,” Mar­ro­quin says of Mu­rakami. “The mush­rooms may look like they’re from a Mario Broth­ers video game. But when he talks about it, these flow­ers and mush­rooms are ref­er­ences to Hiroshima and the hor­rors of war.”

An­other of Mar­ro­quin’s em­broi­dered land­scapes, done round the same time as the orig­i­nal “View from Nor­walk, also fea­tures a mush­room cloud, but this time it’s smaller and dis­guised as a tree with yel­low fo­liage. The tree is an araguaney, the Venezue­lan na­tional tree. He says he cre­ated it re­sponse to the po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion then be­gin­ning there.

For his FIT de­gree, Mar­ro­quin con­cen­trated on weav­ing, mainly for prac­ti­cal rea­sons. He teaches weav­ing, but says none of his fine art is done on a loom. It now has ex­panded to in­clude fab­ric sculp­tures that evolved from an in­ter­est in Ja­panese bam­boo kite mak­ing tech­niques.

Search­ing for a way to add vol­ume to his em­broi­dery, he be­gan build­ing an un­der­struc­ture of ar­ma­tures, then wrap­ping them in yarn, us­ing up­hol­stery nee­dles. Some­times he boosted the bulk with glass bot­tles or dis­carded yarn cones.

“Any shape I thought would help the com­po­si­tion, I would add to the mix­ture,” he says. “I would grab yarn from 10 dif­fer­ent cones and thread the nee­dle and stitch with that. It starts cre­at­ing this sort of skin. It’s al­most as if you have bone and flesh. I’d never seen any­thing like it be­fore in the fiber art world.”

Ex­am­ples on his web­site do in­deed look like braided sinew, or maybe fur­rowed fields. The sculp­tures, which he also calls wall hang­ings, have found fa­vor with in­te­rior de­sign­ers. He also has done a se­ries of de­tailed maps. He says his work tends to have an aerial or land­scape per­spec­tive.

Mar­ro­quin is ex­cited his prize en­ti­tles him to a solo show at Sil­ver­mine. The ex­hibit it­self is view­able on­line and has been ex­tended to mid-June. It fea­tures the work of some 60 artists and an as­ton­ish­ing va­ri­ety of ma­te­rial. A piece by a Florida artist is spun from ster­ling sil­ver. A neck­lace by a Mas­sachusetts artist em­ploys lemon rind. A vil­lage scene made from re­cy­cled teabags is by the Red­ding artist Jen­nifer Coyne Qudeen.

 ?? Contribute­d photo ?? Ruben Mar­ro­quin’s tex­tile art has gained the at­ten­tion of more art col­lec­tors and cu­ra­tors.
Contribute­d photo Ruben Mar­ro­quin’s tex­tile art has gained the at­ten­tion of more art col­lec­tors and cu­ra­tors.
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 ?? Contribute­d photo ?? Ruben Mar­ro­quin’s award-win­ning “View from Nor­walk” looks east­ward across the Nor­walk River near its mouth to a far shore.
Contribute­d photo Ruben Mar­ro­quin’s award-win­ning “View from Nor­walk” looks east­ward across the Nor­walk River near its mouth to a far shore.

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