The romantic notion of the tortured, obsessive artist is one of the oldest clichés in the book, but would that explain why Kris Ruhs, the German-born ‘magpie maker’ rises at 7am every day to work at his cat-infested studio in Milan until 10pm? A conversation with the laid back, affable artist immediately dispels that fallacy: “It’s not obsession, but intense interest I would say. I work from work and everything leads to another thing.”
Together with his partner, the famed editrix turned visionary retailer, Carla Sozzani; Ruhs is responsible for the constantly evolving look and feel of the bellwether of Italian fashion, 10 Corso Como – the boutique-bookstore-gallery-café they created together over 20 years ago. Growing up in New York in the Sixties, Ruhs was already enjoying a critically acclaimed career which had made successful detours into illustration, jewellery design, furniture and fine art when he met Sozzani while she was still working as an editor at Italian Elle. As he recalls it, “It just came about – I never thought I would do that kind of thing. She had found a space in Milan and said, 'Let’s do something.' When we started Corso Como, it was almost like her live magazine.” Ruhs’ African-influenced Primitive artworks are integral to transforming the space into something akin to a Moroccan souk, which goes some way to explain how a Mecca for cutting edge fashion can feel so warmly inviting at the same time. Ruhs agrees, saying, “The initial concept was to make a place that was not a shop or a gallery but the space allows you to come in the morning, hang out, see an event, it’s not just about commerce.” Paying homage to the artisanal tradition, Ruhs experiments in a variety of mediums and materials, enjoying the physical interaction visitors have with his work. “It’s nice for me because it keeps my stuff fresh. I prefer environments more than I do galleries. I’d rather hang my art in a place where people might respond to it than to have it be so isolated. Anything looks good for a second in a gallery but I don’t want to make something you only see once.” Of his enduring relationship with Sozzani, he says simply, “We’re just totally in tune – it’s nice when you don’t have to say things. We just have a natural connection.”
"I prefer environments more than I do galleries. I’d rather hang my art in a place where people might respond to it than to have it be so isolated. Anything looks good for a second in a gallery but I don’t want to make something you only see once.”
After successfully transplanting his organic aesthetic to 10 Corso Como in Seoul two years ago, this month sees him take up residency at the contemporary arts centre The Wapping Project for the London Design Festival. Commissioned by the Wapping Project’s creative director, Jules Wright, Ruhs has created an impressive relief of twisted, curlicued metal framing off the Boiler Room. Once inside, the viewer enters a surreal landscape with a forest of illuminated ceramic thorns suspended from the ceiling taking pride of place, which gives way to a labyrinth of blood red entrails through which shards of light can be seen. Titled Landing on Earth, the magnificent, almost alien installation was partly inspired by his response to the space: “The first thing I noticed when you step down into the room was that it was like entering a pool. When you enter a pool, you want to taste the water. The place has a wonderful darkness to it so I wanted to make a piece that had a little bit of light incorporated into it but wouldn’t lose the darkness. There’s a little mysteriousness there.”
Kris Ruhs: Landing On Earth is at The Wapping Project until October 21.
Text by Kin Woo