“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.” (Christopher Isherwood, from Goodbye to Berlin, 1939)
Lisa Ruyter’s I Am a Camera is a homecoming of sorts. It marks a return to the colorlessness of some of her early work, a return to the self-portraiture that concerned her throughout the early nineties, and a return to Team, a gallery which she co-founded in Chelsea ten years ago. Ruyter, who has been living and working in Vienna and Zurich over the past few years, is also here having her first New York solo in almost four years.
Known for her combative use of color in serial renderings of such subject matters as cemeteries, couture shows and drunken party scenes, Ruyter has here stripped her signature style down to its barest components. The twist comes from two departures: the first is the rejection of color, the second the intensely autobiographical subject matter. This is a Lisa Ruyter show where she has painted Lisa Ruyter only, while restricting her palette to black and white.
By jettisoning the color, and focusing on her own image, Ruyter foregrounds her paintings’ primary subject matters: the photographic and the autobiographical. Since 1996, Ruyter’s paintings have been based on individual photographs taken by the artist and have, therefore, formed a map of her movements around the globe – her personal development. The photographs, although casual, are always intentional; they are always fodder for the paintings—one could not imagine Ruyter photographing scenes for her own consumption.
Since last summer Ruyter has been taking photographs of herself, in certain cases using mirrors, in others a timer and sometimes, simply, holding the camera as far away from herself as possible. Ruyter then selects a small percentage of these pictures and begins the process of fixing them in the medium of painting. She “transcribes” the photographs onto the picture plane, selects the areas of the image that she wishes to render, leaving out details she thinks trivial, while focusing on others. Once the paintings have been drawn in, Ruyter begins to map out colors (in this case, eleven differing values of gray), filling in her own drawings. The final fixing of the images occurs when Ruyter, usually in a single sitting, redraws the lines with a paint pen, bringing the painting into sharp focus.
The artist has shown her work in galleries and museums the world over. Ruyter participated in MoMA’s Projects 77 and in PS1’s original version of Greater New York. This is the 37 year-old’s 23rd one-man show.