Ruben Ubiera‘s tough, tender illustrations straddles the line between graffiti and art with a grace that not many people manage – even if his signature motif is a hulky gorilla. We talk to him about found objects and repping for the Dominican Republic.
First up, please tell us about yourself and your career to date.
My name is Ruben Ubiera, I’m a South Florida urban artist, and I love to analyze and interact with my surroundings through art. As far as my career (if you can call it that, it’s more of a calling than a career), like everything in life, it’s had its ups and downs. Lately it’s been in the up and up so I can’t complain. I have been trying to get my art in the right venues, on the right walls, the right places. I’ve been with the Michael Margulies Artist Agency, which has opened great doors and showed me “the light at the end of the tunnel”.
You’re from the Dominican Republic. Does that heritage inform your art?
In sooooooo many ways. I pull ideas from my culture to define my visual language almost daily. There where subjects and Dominican folk ideas that I used to find foolish which now are a cornerstone of my art. My characters, my diaspora… I’m very proud of it. Example: The “Diablo Cojuelos” (“The Lame Devil” or “The Crippled Devil” – elaborate costumes used on the carnival parades in which men and women dress up as satires of the Devil). The Dominican Republic created the persona I am, the way I look at the world. Being that it is a small island in the Caribbean, the contrast is constant, the poor and the rich, the blacks, whites, mulatos, all in one place. The happy disposition of the country – specially in moments of adversity – are a true inspiration to me.
Your style of art is called Post-Grafism. Can you elaborate and describe the essence of your work?
Post-Grafism is new to me – but it’s a movement I definitely believe in. It’s the natural evolution of urban art. Born out of graffiti, teen angst and comic books, but elevated. And by elevated, I don’t mean better, but just more conceptual. I believe the second you take graffiti out of the streets and it’s not illegal, it stops being graffiti. That is actually what I love about it! I’m constantly driven by what I see on the streets; it’s a hidden language and society that not too many understand… Or care to. But Post-Grafism can bridge this gap.
One of your most recognizable recurring objects is the gorilla. What’s its significance?
A lot of people seem to believe that the gorilla represents me. And in many ways it does, after all, I am painting it. But it’s more than that: I conceptually developed it as “the big gorilla in the room”. The art that everyone is seeing on the streets, but no-one wants to talk about or let it in, even though we know it’s there. It’s huge, strong, smart, witty… Serious and funny at the same time.
Wood, found objects and old skateboards are often part of your work. Why do you use these items and do their previous stories alter the art?
I only paint with found objects. I believe they have a story within them. Plus it brings home the message of recycling. If you build something in today’s world, anything, and you’re not planning on the future, our future, the Earth’s future, then you are just adding more trash on this planet.
You create gallery work but you retain recognition as a street artist. How do you balance that?
Not easy! Working hard. Jumping at the right opportunities, but most importantly: I try to work for my peers. Not the galleries, not the collectors. I try to stay close to future generations. I listen. I see. I question. I observe.
You’re showing work at Art Basel later this year. How important are fairs such as Art Basel to an artist?
In my humble opinion, these fairs are key. Art Basel allows you to have contact with the world of art in ways that were unprecedented. Galleries that you may not be able to contact all over the world are suddenly here. Funny, while people have fun, it’s when I work the hardest.
Do you have any other news or stories you would like to share?
There’s a lot happening now. Too much to even be able to focus on one subject to share. Plus, these upcoming projects are in development and not set in stone. All I can say is: Stay tuned and support your local art scene. See you at the show!
Words: Heike Dempster