Fan Mail: Aaron Ruell

For this edition of Fan Mail, Aaron Ruell has been selected from a group of worthy submissions.  If you would like to be considered, please submit to a link to your website with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.  Two artists are featured each month – the next one could be you!

Art and popular culture have long been fluid constructs – a truism evidenced in Aaron Ruell‘s multi-faceted career.  In addition to his photographic practice, Ruell works concurrently in popular film, in advertising and also in directing commercials.  He may not consider himself an actor, but is widely known for his role as Kip in cult-favorite Napoleon Dynamite (2004).  Ruell’s diverse interests no doubt have some influence on his photographic practice, but he nonetheless approaches it as a separate entity and a ‘precious’ means of exercising complete creative freedom.

Aaron Ruell’s hyperreal photographs are currently featured in a solo exhibition at Martine Chaisson Gallery in New Orleans.  The images, shot over the past five years with a Hasselblad 500, an H2 and a Canon 5D, feature a cross section of his photographic portraits and environments inspired by everyday observation.  The artist may wander upon subject matter at times, yet he freely admits that he leaves little to chance in a practice ranging from documenting found locations to photographing purpose built and designed sets.  This meticulous approach facilitates a descriptive formal interplay between elements such as saturated color and form, making the smallest details visible.  In this way, Ruell engages the viewer with subtle narrative – imbuing his images with a retro cinematic quality.  Environment shots such as Class or China Wall read like vacant film sets or fragments of an untold story.

The importance of setting in Ruell’s work means that even his portraits are conceived of as a gestalt.  Like a director, he casts subjects to fill roles defined by a preexisting concept.  The human presence is ultimately treated as one of many instructive props in vignettes of an imagined life.  These quiet scenes filled with self-contained subjects manage to evoke an element of the strange.  Twins, for instance, recalls a similar Diane Arbus image.  Both are slightly unsettling in their rigid poses and identical doubling.  However, Ruell steps back, situating the twins within a visual context of his own design.

Ruell has a multitude of projects currently in the works, including a feature film and two photographic series.  Listen for him beginning January 2012 as he voices Kip in the upcoming animated Napoleon Dynamite television series.

His work remains on view at Martine Chaisson Gallery in New Orleans through June 1st.