Manuel Ruelas is a Jalisco artist and painter from western Mexico, who by alias carries the nickname of Phases”, He delves into his work between consumerism, migration and territoriality with a satirical and profound vision. In their works there are mixtures between pre-Hispanic art and everyday popular culture and they have managed to have a national and international presence in events such as the 6th Szeklerland International Biennial of Engraving 2020 and the Second Edition of “Lumen Art Biennial” in Mexico.
His work is influenced by TGP “Popular Graphics Workshop”, same that is a great reference of contemporary art in Mexico, having been a school for many engraving greats like; Leopoldo Méndez, Pablo O'Higgins and Luis Arenal Bastar. This group took as a speech the denunciation of the class struggle through the use of symbols and popular elements of Mexico.
Also, Ruelas, alludes to the aesthetics of chicano art, which is characterized by the use of religious, political, indigenous symbols and by the reflection of their social and identity problems in a Mexican-American context. Manuel also admits a stylistic influence on his work of German expressionism.
Today, his work takes place between painting and engraving within the Barranca Gráfica Workshop-Gallery which is his creative space, which currently has two offices, one in Mexico, one in the United States and an art gallery. The first one is in Mexico, located in the Condesa neighborhood, one of the most cultural places in Mexico City and the second one in Oakland CA, USA, where he currently lives directing both spaces.
About a year ago, I had the opportunity to work in this Barranca Gráfica workshop, where I met Manuel Ruelas. Today, I was able to talk to him about his influences as well as his artistic vision and this was the result. The interview was edited for reasons of clarity:
Alejandro Barreto: There is a great load of satire in your work, where does Manuel Ruelas's criticism point?
MR: The sense of humor and satire is something inherent in Mexican culture, we grow, we live, and we die with it, humor has served as a vehicle to attack and cope with the miseries and ailments of the country. In my case, this happened in a natural and casual way, it gave me the possibility of maintaining a critical and political position regarding historical events. The social context, the mixture of poverty, violence and corruption become a reality in Mexico, a constant defense in a city that ends up returning rude to its citizens. In Mexico there is a cult of fights Yet the rivalry of all kinds, the sports industry, politics, religion and television. I try to capture a phenomenon of which we are part; the misfortune in society, which ranges from getting sick, or becoming poorer, violent or corrupt within it, therefore, the limit of misfortune is death, that is why this concept is always recurring in my work.
AB In your opinion, what place does street art occupy in today's world society?
MR: You democratized the windows, any artist or person who wanted to say or paint something can do it, took the message to audiences that perhaps had never been to a museum or gallery. The big problem for me today is that now the big capitals realized this and have turned it into a commercial and elitist product, a resource for gentrification, which makes it sterile and merely decorative, an ideal background for Selfies and large-scale advertising. Still, there are great artists of him, firm and consistent with his position.
AB: Currently you live in the United States, has this changed your perception of Mexican-American culture compared to when you lived in Mexico?
MR: The starting point and the connection with the Mexican-American culture for me was the concept of Nepantla, A very important Nahuatl indigenous word for us Mexicans that means “in the middle” “in between”, then, the experience of living in the United States has led me to investigate the paths of longing; my own and the collective from “in the middle”, that concept is very present in my work. At the same time I am collecting stories about segregation, xenophobia and racism, but also about self-improvement, organization, collectivity and struggle.
AB: There are many references from pop culture and discourse on the territory In your works, how do these two concepts work for you as an artist?
MR: They work based on the ancient myth of Aztlán's migration from the “Mexicas ”or“ Aztecas ” (to where Mexico City is today), migration and the construction of the identity-territory. The people of Aztlán, the Aztecs, had to leave their home in search of the land promised by the gods. By orders of the god of war and the sun, Huitzilopochtli, They started a pilgrimage until they found an eagle devouring a snake, perched on a prickly pear cactus to found México-Tenochtitlán, (present-day Mexico City). This for me is a cross-border and migration cultural value, with which I wanted to build bridges between what is my own and what is alien, the mixture of the iconography of Aztec signs but idealized by neighborhood or popular culture and reinterpreted in light of the new culture of mass consumption. The popular consumer elements and those of worship in the Aztec empire. Names, common characters and brands present in our collective culture. These exercises of appropriation and hybridization have made me search for new meanings to the icons, reformulating their narratives and giving them new ways of representation.
You can see more of his work in his account Instagram