In the exhibition Cloudless Day, Ruben Ochoa (born 1974, Oceanside, California) tackles the genre of California landscape painting, but with his own interpretation. The artist is best known for his monumental sculptural installations, which explore the urban landscape and are created from accessible construction and building materials including galvanized fence posts, concrete slabs, lengths of rebar, chain-link fence, pallets, and excavated dirt. Ochoa “deconstructs a construction worker aesthetic,” seeking to nudge the viewer into reassessing their perception of the everyday environment. It serves as a gateway to issues on class and culture, and the working and merchant class; the virtually ignored population that keeps the machination of large cities such as Los Angeles running and prospering. In that liminal space where Man and Nature collide, is an Ochoa artwork, as in this new series of landscape paintings in the exhibition Cloudless Day.
After more than a decade of exploring sculpture as a medium, Ochoa returns to his painting practice to create large-scale, mixed-media sculptural canvases that draw inspiration from California Impressionism, various contemporary art movements, and even diverse popular culture sources. Ochoa reduces his landscapes to two tones, representing earth and sky. For the blue skies, Ochoa turned to house paint—a medium famously used by abstract expressionist Franz Kline. In selecting the various tones, Ochoa was intrigued with the paint colors of lifestyle icon Martha Stewart, because of their poetic names—Cloudless Day, Darkening Sky, Morning Fog, etc.—which could be appropriated for the titles of the paintings as well as the exhibition title. Their names also refer to nature, and Ochoa relishes the irony that we paint our interior walls with colors that allude to the external environment. We build shelters to protect ourselves from the elements and yet paint our walls with colors that directly reflect the outside world.
Ochoa’s deceptively simple compositions juxtapose monochromatic skies with rugged, earthy terrains. Far from traditional formal or geometric abstractions, the flat, single-toned skies disclose texture in horizontal or vertical grooves created by applying the paint with a handheld broom or push broom. The landscapes are composed of dirt, specifically California dirt that is a mix of sand and gravel, the kind used as an aggregate for concrete. One of the artist’s signature materials, it is a deliberate reference to the urban landscape of Los Angeles. This approach counters the tradition of the painted vistas that celebrates Nature’s beauty and embodies “a continuation of Ochoa’s interest in the poetic potential of vernacular materials and urban signifiers.” The rough dirt brings a three-dimensional, sculptural presence to the work, and the artist has enhanced this perception by using three-inch stretcher bars to increase the depth of the painting. The exaggerated, yet pared-down constructions simultaneously signify contradictory elements: nature and industry, representation and abstraction, content and formalism.
Ochoa’s powerful paintings make direct correlations to the Wadsworth’s celebrated collection of Hudson River School paintings and mid-century abstract works, including those by Morris Louis and Barnett Newman.
Ruben Ochoa earned a BFA in 1997 at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and a MFA in 2003 from University of California, Irvine. Ochoa has had solo exhibitions at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo; Site Santa Fe; the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and Locust Projects, Miami. His work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions at venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; El Museo del Barrio, New York; the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; and the Center for Contemporary Arts, Tel Aviv, Israel. He was also included in the 2008 Whitney Biennial. He has received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship in New Media, and a Visual Arts Grant from Creative Capital. Ochoa’s work can be found in the public collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Pérez Art Museum, Miami; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.