Interview with David Ruhlman, by Jennifer Palmer

Published: Vol. II, Issue I
Date of Interview: July 14th, 2014

Where were you born?

Stuttgart, Germany.

The current state of residence?


Does location influence your artwork?

Yes, I believe location does influence my artwork. My wife and I just moved to Minnesota, but before the move I lived in Salt Lake City for 18 years. There is an interesting energy to the West, specifically Salt Lake. It is a convergence of weird religion, desert/open space, and I feel that my time there greatly influenced me, for better or worse. I have been in Minnesota almost a year and I am waiting to see how it influences me.

What advice would you give to artists starting out?

Work, work, work. There is no substitute for work. Also find a good community of people and try and make something every day. Don’t worry too much if a painting is good or not. Just paint.

Who influenced you as an artist?

I was influenced by the Max Ernst, Jean Dubuffet, Paul Klee, Jan Svankmajer, Museum of Jurassic Technology, Twin Peaks, Wallace Berman, Unica Zurn, Joseph Beuys, The CoBrA group, Antonin Artaud, Werner Herzog, and Joseph Cornell.

Does music play a role in your creativity?

Music plays a huge part in my life and my creative process. I always have music playing. My brother Mathieu Ruhlmann, who has been a huge influence, is a musician and creates some incredible music. We have similar creative processes, such as seeking to make the common unfamiliar.

What is one item you could not work without in your studio?


What is your workspace/studio like?

My wife and I just purchased a house, and my studio is on the second floor. It is all hardwood with a nice view out the window. There are a ton of art books and objects I have collected over the years. I have always worked out of my house. I painted either in the living room or a home studio. I taught myself how to paint, and I paint lying on my stomach. It just seems natural to me. I have a small china cup that belonged to my grandmother, and it’s now coated in paint. I also usually work on one painting at a time.

The artists workspace.

Could you describe your artistic process?

Many times an image comes to me and I just have to figure it out. I also start many paintings with a title in my mind and kinda reverse engineer it. I usually have the painting in process next to my bed, and stare at it before I sleep and when I wake up. This has always worked for me.

How has your practice changed over time?

I don’t think it has changed much.

What three artists should everyone be aware of?

I love Dieter Roth for his range and use of uncommon materials. I would also recommend Wallace Berman and the Semina group. I was lucky to go to a large retrospective of his and was amazed. I always go back to the CoBrA group. I am drawn to their color, gesture, and themes of their work. I would also like to add Bob Moss—he was a Utah artist/musician that I always loved. He passed away a few years ago, but I think about him often. I was lucky enough to buy a painting of his before he passed, and it is one of my prized possessions.

Favorite books?

My favorite books are: anything by Wade Davis, Behind the Scream by Sue Prideaux, The Theater and Its Double by Antonin Artaud, anything about the Bauhaus, CoBrA group, Paul Klee, the Schlumpers, and most artist biographies.

If there was one thing you wanted people to know about your work what would it be?

Hmmmm, I think that there is a humor to it, a dark humor. I think most people can sense it. In even some of my darker painting there is a humor to it, and even if not humor then a sense of play.

How did you become interested in doubles and the use of anagram?

My first introduction to art was the Surrealists, and the writings/artwork of Unica Zurn. Unica Zurn took a word/sentence and found a hidden meaning buried in its structure. Much of my art is made up of patterns and structure. I thought of my paintings becoming a visual anagram. There is a hidden part of the image/painting that is changed by its placement, which alters the overall meaning of the image.

Looking over your work I really enjoyed the series of Handmade Books you created. I was wondering how you go about collecting your materials for collage and if you actively look for certain things?

I am always picking up odds and ends. Whether it’s a wasp’s nest, newspaper, stones, or pictures. I cannot go on a hike without bringing back a stone or interesting tree branch.

I am curious to learn more about the time you spent as an artist-in-residence at the Pickle Company. How did this time influence your artwork?

It had a huge influence. My brother and I received a small grant to create an installation in an old 5,000 square foot Pickle Factory, which was being renovated to become an art gallery/studio. It was an amazing experience. I always thought of myself as a painter and the installation allowed me to build rooms and structures. That artist-in-residence program forced me to move outside my comfort and think about space in a different way. Also I found a packet of newspapers from the 1930s that a woman kept on strange occurrences, which I feel needs to be seen by more people. I have them up at:

I am really drawn to the images you use in your paintings and I was curious to know how you decide what to include and the meaning some of the images have to you?

I have repeating images that I reuse in various paintings. They can represent different things in different paintings. This is when the visual anagram comes into play. An example of this is an earlier painting that I did, which is loosely based on Edvard Munch and an image of a chair with a young girl hovering over it. Munch’s sister died when she was very young, and he kept her chair throughout his entire life. So for that painting, to me the chair represented death, but in other paintings it can stand in for something else—or sometimes just be a chair.

What project or projects are you currently working on?  Would you be interested in sharing an image?

Yes, I’m finishing the Secret Knot series that I’ve been working on for years. It started when reading about Antonin Artaud and his vision of the end of the world. He prophesied that the end of the world would be November 7th 1937. I wondered what it would look like. The ram image came from this series, with the ram being the entity directing the process. There have been about 20 paintings in the series. The last painting, which I am working on now, deals with birth. My wife and I are expecting our first child near the end of August. So it felt right to have this possibly end the series.

The Earth is a Secret Knot (Black Birds/November 7, 1937) | Gouache on Wood Panel | 48" x 24" | 2012

The Earth is a Secret Knot (Black Birds/November 7, 1937) | Gouache on Wood Panel | 48" x 24" | 2012

Are there any upcoming exhibitions of your artwork that you would like to mention?

None at the moment. I just had quite a few exhibits and felt I needed to take a small break.

Whose work interests you right now? What artists/poets/presses/galleries put out work that you find exciting?

I think the CUAC Contemporary Art Center is doing some amazing work. I also love living in Minnesota and being so close to the Walker Art Center, and finding smaller galleries in the city.

Where do you see American sculpture/painting/drawing/photography headed right now?

I’m not sure. I do like that contemporary art can mean so many things.  It can include video art, mixed media, and even painting.

Cake or pie?

This is one is the hardest questions to answer. There are so many variables. But, today it is pie.