Nicolas Ruel has been working, for the last several years, on an ambitious body of work, 8 seconds, where he attempts to revisit the image of the world’s greatest cities. From Elements (2007) to Microscripts (2011), he has refined an in camera double exposure technique, where a sudden swivelling motion triggers the transfiguration of the visible. He travels in quest of familiar images in order to expose their hidden architecture: his sculptural compositions, crystallised in monumental stainless steel prints, seem to give access to the hidden dimensions of space and time.
Ever since its beginnings, Nicolas Ruel’s work has reiterated a double interest for the world’s diversity and its various mise en scène. Born in Montreal, he pursued college studies in photography and international relations before being trained in scriptwriting at Université du Québec à Montréal. His first published works were photographic essays in black and white on the Moscow Metro (2000) and Angkor Wat (2002). In parallel, he developed various series where he explored, with great structural acumen, the figures of architecture, light or industry. His work garnered the attention of important figures of the living arts: the choreographers Marie Chouinard or Édouard Lock, theatre director Robert Lepage or Cirque du Soleil, who all called upon his collaboration to capture their theatrical gestures.
Nicolas Ruel’s works have been featured in solo and group exhibitions and contemporary art fairs in Canada, Europe, and the United States. His photographs are part of numerous public and private collections. He has won eight LUX grand prizes over the course of his career and three monographs of his work has been published: Inox (2007), Elements (2007) and Carnival (2010).
I am a painter who prefers the work to speak for itself. I believe that the relationship between the painting and the viewer is one that benefits from intimacy, without voice-over. It is as Duchamp says: “the viewer completes the work.”
Although photography has taken over many of the duties of contemporary portraiture I obviously prefer the painted subject. To paint the sitter is to have an intense encounter with that image and with art history at the same time. I often work from photographs (as well as from the model) but photography interests me only as aid to memory. I work in oil on linen and have chosen to concentrate on the single figure. I invest each image with significant detail and try to achieve not simply a physical likeness but also to unveil a psychological truth: to show a state of being in the world. I paint actual, living people in a high realist manner because I am not interested in the illusions of the classical or idealized figure. In a culture so concerned with celebrity, with youth and with perfection, to be elderly, anonymous, handicapped, marginalized or less than perfect often means invisibility. But such people are often the subject of my work. I try to convey the complexity of lived experience by depicting a full range of the human spectrum. In that regard the sitter becomes exalted by the scrutiny of the artist’s gaze, by the act of being painted. He or she is given sustained attention where in everyday life they may be often overlooked. In that sense my work also refers to the richness of art history itself. Such artists as Diego Velasquez and his The Dwarf Sebastian de Morra inform my work. Or Caravaggio whose works such as The Incredulity of Saint Thomas are the very embodiment of shadow and light on flesh. Or the unsparing portraits of ordinary people in ordinary settings by Lucien Freud. It is with all this in mind that I try to paint the subject before me.