Paint by Number
Ruben Millares is a Miami-based artist known for his audacious performances and more recently for his unusual sculptures. In his recent body of work, Paint By Number, he creates two-dimensional pieces, which have never been exhibited until now. Paint by Number will be his first solo show as a represented artist with Pan American Art Projects.
If we look at Millares’ body of work, and the extent of his creativity, irony is at its core, the invisible thread connecting each piece. Irony can be seen in his performances as well as his sculptures and even the shows in the name of his musical group: CHICKEN LIQUOR. So it is not a surprise that the title of this exhibition was also selected from that perspective. It is a play on words that refers to the well-known craft, but simultaneously stresses the main element of these pieces; the number. This is perhaps a collateral result of also being an accountant. His days are filled with extremely specific numerical figures, which he abstracts by stripping them of their original meaning and re-presenting them in a visual cacophony. Much of the power lies in the fact that the numbers, although out of context, retain their vibrancy and significance.They identify people, their finances, statistics, passwords, bank accounts and net worth. Millares presents abstract sums that cannot be decoded. He makes personal something that otherwise could be seen as impersonal and cold, giving meaning to an otherwise abstract idea.
He started working with numbers in 2011 beginning with collages. They were the result of his ravaging through endless documents at work including bank statements, tax returns, business proposals and financial statements. He patiently cut numbers from these documents, seemingly in a random process of selection. However, this “recycling” action had a purpose: he chose only numbers greater than +/- 75,000. Repurposing numbers became a meditative exercise, which allowed him to process the figures and control the mechanism of their reordering into collages. As the collages started to accumulate, he converted them to silkscreens. He trained at the famous Lower East Side Printshop in New York City and mastered his technique. Silkscreen offered him the possibility of multiplying and layering numbers even further, versus the “single pass” of the original collages.
He experimented with color and the application onto canvas. The canvas required more than one matrix and consequently several passes to transfer the numbers. There arose the need to apply several layers to obtain the desired image. This ‘inconvenience’ ended up being a great source of experimentation that produced unexpected results, to Millares’ delight. He grew more and more confident with the printing process and decided to create bigger matrixes and larger pieces, like the ones included in this exhibition. The first works were made on paper, then on canvas and recently on vellum.
Millares is a multifaceted artist who thrives on experimentation. The important thing for him is the initial idea, which will dictate the technique to be used: it could be a performance, a sculpture, a painting or a song.