C.M. Ruiz Talks About Turning The Lusty Lady Into a Giant Gallery

The poster artist discusses his new show, changing Seattle, time travel, and feces.

Illustration by Marie Hausauer

Even if you don’t know his name, if you’ve lived in Seattle for a spell, you’ve almost definitely seen C.M. Ruiz’s art on a telephone pole. Over the past 11 years, Ruiz has created nearly 500 show posters for local bands by fusing his goopy, geometric drawing style with his trademark analog Xerox manipulation technique. That psychedelic style has gotten him gigs with The New York Times and music festivals around the country, and earned him fashion lines with OBEY and Urban Outfitters.

Ruiz’s new show opening this Thursday, Wormhole Visuals, will be the first use of Seattle’s historic Seven Seas building since The Lusty Lady peepshow and nude dance club closed down in June 2010. Thanks to a unique partnership with current leaseholders Revolve Development, which plans to turn the 130-year-old building into a hotel in 2018, Ruiz was given access to its 4,000 square feet, where he will install massive toner print photo illustrations (created in partnership with local photographer Megumi Shauna Arai), projections, and sculptures. Proceeds from art sales will go to the Low Income Housing Institute and the Sex Workers Outreach Project, Seattle. We sat down with Ruiz in the massive space to chat about changing Seattle, time travel, and feces.

Were there any surprises when you first got the keys to the space? A bunch of people had taken an electric saw to the door and squatted in here, so there were a bunch of needles and Cheez-It boxes everywhere in the basement. We found poop. I think I was just surprised it went down so far. There’s basement one, basement two, basement three, so many basements. The very bottom level has stairs that lead to a brick wall—I think it’s an entrance to the Seattle Underground.

A lot of artists in Seattle see developers as the enemy, but this show happened because of a partnership with them—do you see more opportunities for that kind of thing in the future? I don’t know! When I pitched them, the Revolve team was just super-down-to-earth and saw the win/win of being philanthropic with the space, activating it so it wasn’t full of squatters, and the cultural cachet of having an art space in the Downtown core. I think too, with their future plans of turning it into a hotel, they understand the appeal of having art in the space that will bridge with the programming they want to do later after construction. They want a bar in the basement and want to do DJ nights and want help figuring out the art for the wall—they want to keep it really locally engaged still.

So there seems to be potential for more uses of this space in the interim before construction begins? I think so! They’ve been pretty cool about everything. I think it just depends on what the fire marshal comes back with, the max occupancy limit.

I know the Punk Rock Flea Market was also going to be here, but just got canceled—is that because of the fire marshal? Yeah, 1,000 people a day cycle through for that, and the fire marshal, when he came in, he said he thought the max he could do is 50 people. Revolve is trying to see if they can do bigger.

That seems really small for this huge space. Yeah, due to some algorithm, they count the three doors in the front as one door. My show will only be on the first floor.

Will the erotic element of the building’s past be present in the work? I know a woman who used to dance here who is a lawyer now and very successful. I talked to her about the possibility of the show happening after one of our meetings with Revolve, and she kind of reminded me that this space was very dear to a lot of women who worked here, and to just be aware of that when creating the pieces. I was trying to be very aware of that. I felt some super-light nudity would be appropriate, but making sure to treat that nudity as empowering rather than pornographic or erotica. When I was working with [photographer] Megumi and Emily Cripe, the model in all the pieces, her and I had a long talk while we were waiting for Megumi to show up just about what kind of expressions should come through. I told them about all that and then let them feel out what that meant for them.

You’ve said the history of this space and the ideas it evokes influenced the techniques you used in the show as well—how so? I’m using new techniques to reflect how the city is evolving. I’ve never done sculpture before, but I’m doing that for this show. The city is changing and adding stuff, but what used to be here is disappearing at the same time; it’s like a plus and minus. So I’m trying to evolve along with the city while still nodding to its past and my own personal past, still using Xerox. I was thinking about space and time a lot, both in a literal “time passing and square footage disappearing” sense, and in a sci-fi sense, like outer space and time travel. A lot of my work recently involves shapes and things appearing and disappearing in these geometric planes—that’s part of why I called it Wormhole Visuals.

It also kind of works with the peepshows. Yeah! I also will be doing a lot of photographs that I paint on, the idea being that a photograph is a physical piece of your memory, but by painting it, it’s different than what you remember. When I was talking to the guys I know that used to work here, two front-desk guys and a custodian, they remember it super-fondly.

Oof, I bet the custodian dealt withall kinds of sticky stuff in here. Yeah, I think the loss of the space rose-colors those glasses a little. I don’t know how stoked we’d be if The Lusty Lady was here forever, but it’s a super-bummer that it’s not here because of socioeconomic change.

But in using these new techniques, it also seems like you’re recognizing the new opportunities that change presents. If The Lusty Lady was still here, I wouldn’t be doing a show here. I feel like everything going on right now in Seattle is a double-edged sword. It sucks things are disappearing, but you’ve either got to figure out how to evolve with it and find new ways of culturally engaging and making it your home, or you climb under a blanket. You have to do something. Wormhole Visuals at The Lusty Lady, 1315 First Ave. Opening 5 p.m. Thurs., May 5. Free. Ends May 31.

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