Mike Ruiz :: Much more than meets the eye
It's still very hot here! August summers in Manhattan can be brutal, and on this early evening as I'm sitting across from celebrity photographer and multi-media maestro Mike Ruiz, it isn't just the humidity that's making me sweat. The strapping and sexy Ruiz sits casually on his couch; the very same, very expensive couch, I'm sure I'm melting all over. We're discussing his latest project Transformations: The Photography of Mike Ruiz an exhibit at the Leslie Lohman Gallery to benefit the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
"I've always taken people and put them into a different context," Mike says about his work. "Everyone has an alter-ego or at least I perceive that everyone has an alter-ego brewing under their surface." As evidenced when Ruiz recently transformed gay icon and infamous D-Lister Kathy Griffin on her hit BRAVO show into retro-pin-up darling Betty Page. "It always has to make sense. It's never the first thing that anyone thinks of, but ultimately they will embrace it."
From model to photographer
You may recognize Ruiz from that appearance on Griffin’s My Life on the D-List, or on America’s Next Top Model and RuPaul’s Drag Race where he’s been a celebrity photographer and guest judge. In Canada where he’s from (he was born and raised in Quebec) he appears as an expert judge on the third season of Canada’s Next Top Model. Next up is another television project: the upcoming Logo reality series --- The A List: New York - in which he is one of he six gay New Yorkers (including Reichen Lehmkuhl) whose lives are being filmed and edited for airing in the fall. (More on this later.)
It might be surprising to learn that Ruiz didn’t set out to be a photographer. In his early 20s he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an actor and a model. Then at the age of 28 he found a camera under a Christmas tree and photography became his passion. He also worked extensively directing music videos for such artists as Kelly Rowland, Kristine W, Traci Lords, Jody Watley and Shontelle; as well as directed the cult film Starbooty starring RuPaul as a supermodel who goes undercover as a prostitute to break-up a kidnapping ring. (Think early John Waters.)
But back to the Leslie Lohman Gallery show: The 20 archival custom prints were specially selected for their transformative quality and lustrous interpretation as designed by Ruiz and offer a considerable overview of his career. "This is a very cohesive body of images that really is representative of my point of me -- I’ve found my voice." Ray Henders of Rayographix was incorporated to print the works on canvas guaranteeing the creamy texture that has made Ruiz’s hyper-realistic artwork so unique and endurable. Without a doubt the subjects on display will feature some of his most prominent Hollywood friends as they’ve never been seen before. In his career Mike Ruiz has photographed everyone from Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Tyra Banks and burlesque starlet Dita Von Teese (just to name a few) with a unique and surreal perspective that has often made us stop cold with their shock and awe quality.
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Watch this interview with Mike Ruiz:
Watch this Mike Ruiz profile on Fashion Television:
Characteristic of his generosity, the exhibit will was also be a benefit designed to support the endeavors of emerging gay artists and continue to support the efforts of the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
"Robert Richards is on the board [of the Leslie Lohman Foundation] and is also a phenomenal illustrator himself. He curated the show." Working together Roberts and Ruiz selected the pieces for the show. "The Leslie Lohman Gallery has always supported the gay artist and the content of the show has to display a certain percentage of homoeroticism to it."
"Everything I shoot is sexy," he (fortunately) acknowledges. There’s no denying that Ruiz’s work boils over with a succulent and sweet sexuality. "These are one-of-a-kind prints selected for this show and benefiting the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation," which makes them a treasure for any art collector.
With the career and popularity that Ruiz has enjoyed over the years, one would expect that a gallery show like this one would be second nature, but it is a brand new venture for him. "It’s the first time that I’ve put together a show like this! In my mind I imagined it would be this daunting effort... I was surprised at how quickly it’s all come together. Now that I know how easy it is, I’m gonna do shows left and right!" Which no doubt comes as a surprise to most and will hopefully inspire a book project from Ruiz. Certainly many of his admirers are expecting one to be in the works, anxious to own a piece of Mike Ruiz -- at least to put on their coffee tables.
His career reflects a classic American success story. He came to the States with little more than the shirt on his back and a dream in his pocket, but Ruiz carved a niche for himself with his indelible eye for beauty; a skill he adapted from his admiration and close relationship with his mother. Her stylishly beautiful nature left an impression on him. After taking up photography, it wasn’t long before he had established himself as an industry authority; and with his good looks, charm and immeasurable professionalism Ruiz became an instant favorite as a celebrity expert on America’s Next Top Model and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
On the A-List
With his recent appearance on the aforementioned Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D-List it seemed inevitable that a series would be next. Now with The A List: New York, Ruiz joins the ranks of reality television personalities. On the show cameras scrutinize every minute of his day -- from the minutia of life in the city to the business of his multi-media work. And, he admits, it’s a different experience from his previous television work. "Making an appearance as an expert on other peoples’ show is vastly different from joining the cast of a reality docudrama."
"I’m used to being creatively in control... but I’ve already had the whole emotional arc of the experience and now I fully embrace it. I don’t know why I was sweating it."
Nor does he worry about how the public will perceive him; though he is a bit concerned about how his fellow cast members might be viewed. "I can control how I behave, but I can’t control how other cast members behave -- so it can be unnerving; but I hope that this will be a more accurate representation of what we’re really like." (Meaning how the rest of the viewing audience will see urban, professional gay men in their environment and not the stereotypes that often dominate in the media.)
"I’m a risk taker," he adds. And it’s that quality that has made Mike Ruiz himself such a transformative artist within our community and always a personality that has always emerged as much more than meets the eye.
Transformations: The Photography of Mike Ruiz open August 25th at the Leslie Lohman Gallery on 26 Wooster Street (between Grand & Canal). You can go to the website at www.leslielohman.org. For more on Mike Ruiz and his work including upcoming projects and photography you can goto his website at www.mikeruiz.com
Watch this Mike Ruiz interview on LOGO:
Watch the Call Me Starrbooty directed by Mike Ruiz: