Some flattering articles
A few words about Ken's Polynesian paintings:
written by jonPaul Balek
appearing in Tiki Magazine Winter 08-09 pages 43-45
Cannibal kings/rowers, birdmen, totems, Tikis from other planets, surf boards, happy huts, pineapple kings, bird of paradise warriors—welcome to the fantastic world of Ken Ruzic. Known for being incredibly prolific and possessing an enviable military-like work ethic, the Illinois born and raised Ruzic’s oeuvre traverses a wide array of media, subject matter, symbolism, and sizes. Upon viewing his pieces, one is immediately captured by a kind of tangible moving energy, as forms and colors seem to dance off the surface. As is the sign of art that makes a difference, digestion of the work takes some time. This is partly due to a complex series of references inspired by Ruzic’s diverse interests and constant reading.
Ruzic, a creative director for a t-shirt company by day, cites early artistic influence as coming from mythology and folk tales, comic books, cartoons, and art and history books. He says, “My Uncle David, who was a brilliant artist and comic book collector, used to show me how to draw figures and animals, always providing knowledge and encouragement.” He continues, “As for fine artists, Durer, Dali and Brueghel…other artists that drove me forward would be comic book artists Jack Kirby, John Romita, Steve Ditko, Mike Ploog, fantasy artists Frank Frazetta, Roger Dean and Rodney Matthews, and animators Tex Avery, Max Fleisher and Sid and Marty Kroft,” as Ruzic proclaims, “a great mix of characters!” As far as current inspirations go, Ruzic looks to his wife and family, Squid, Bamboo Ben, Holden Westland, Big Toe, Chongolio, TikiShark, Robb Hamel, Sam Gambino, Doug Horne and Crazy Al.
Motivation comes in part from USMC training, copious amounts of coffee and Zipfizz and a “burning need to explore a subject completely.” His varied style comes from a combination of a few things…he says, ”it’s a result of reading art books and comic books at the same time. I work in so many different styles, each one leaping off of or adding to the other.” Some of his more common signature styles include the use of a bold acrylic and paintpen to create a very cartoonish feel; gouache, where the tones are more blended and “classier;” the mixing of Chinese papercuts with Pareau prints from Hawaiian shirts and a newer “stained glass” style. Ruzic explains, “despite the different styles, people can still recognize a LLT (Little Lost Tiki, Ruzic’s Tiki Central name) paninting! It’s not only the style, but the narratives and emotions behind the piece that also define it…like it’s grabbed a piece of your personality.”
One of the most striking aspects of entering his Orange, CA industrial park studio is the extensive library of reference material. “Every artist should have a reference library to consult,” says Ruzic, “to deepen their knowledge of a subject they wish to tackle. An artist's sense of duty should require diligent study as well as practice.” The studio, Ruzic’s “batcave,” is awe-inspiringly lined with completed works and pieces in progress. Every available wall space is covered with art, and screams to the visitor how abundantly Ruzic produces. “I try to work there at least 3-4 nights a week and Fridays are my day to work from dawn to midnight,” Ruzic says, “the long periods of solitude help me focus and create so much.” Stimulation at the studio also comes from the interesting collection of items strategically places throughout. Religious icons, other artists’ work, artifacts from all around the globe, and Tiki treasures including mugs, carvings, and even a set of Crazy Al Tiki chesspieces on a Bamboo Ben chessboard dot the landscape. Much like Ruzic’s favorite Tiki establishment, Ft. Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai, there is “history ambiance and surprises around every corner.”
Ruzic’s first encounter with Tiki began on a family vacation to Florida during the early 70’s. He explains, “We went to the everglades, all those miniature golf courses and shops full of kitschy tourist items and headed to Disneyworld and the Enchanted Tiki Room—that planted the seed when I was very young.” He continues, “It began to blossom, but it wasn’t until the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s that Tiki really took hold when I started working at Rusy Surfboards and later Hawaiian Island Creations.” Like a large number of artists that come to discover Tiki as a subject matter, Ruzic began to become more involved in the sub-culture as a whole. As he maintains, “Through Tiki I have been fortunate to meet so many artists and friends, all of whom share the same focus and energy, yet each one brings out a different aspect of the genre…their own take on it.” He continues, “Tiki Central is THE best place to gain and share knowledge about the scene as a whole. One can keep track of all the events as well as see what fellow artists and carvers are creating.” He happily proclaims, “Tiki Central is an endless fountain of learning and laughter and has also
become a family…Ohana, and that’s the best part!”
Ruzic’s Tiki career highlights thus far have included a one man show at the Caged Chameleon Gallery in Santa Ana, CA, inclusion in the Tikis and Terrors show, both Tiki Magazine art shows, the Three Kings show, “Fine Art Tiki” with Miami’s Harold Golen Gallery at 2008’s Hukilau, and the 5 year anniversary Tiki art show at M Modern in Palm Springs during 2008’s Tiki Caliente. Ruzic exclaims, “Man! To be able to hang up on the wall next to all these superstars is a dream I could never have imagined!” Another dream come true included collaborating with Tiki Farm’s Holden Westland and Squid to produce 3 different Ruzic mugs. He elaborates on the themes behind the moods of the mugs…“Oli-Oli means ‘very happy,’ so it got a day and night tropical landscape. Kakaka, ‘the long breathed God of Molokai’ suggested the creative spirit, like a wind, so I drew a volcano and waterfall, two ways to symbolically picture a flow of ideas and still provide contrast—peaceful flowing thoughts and the fiery eruption of ideas. Pupule means ‘crazy, reckless, wild.’ For this one, we returned to the landscape, but with the agro theme of cannibal huts.”
Ruzic is currently working on a 4 panel commission piece for a very dear friend that has “delightfully been pushing the limits of [his] art” and is planning a 20 year retrospective at the Caged Chameleon next year. Future dream projects include holding an art show inside of a hut designed and painted by Ruzic and built by Bamboo Ben, painting a “HUGE” mural for a Tiki bar, complete Blake’s “Vision of the Last Judgment” on a 5 foot canvas in Ruzic style, and finish his “Little Lost Tiki” children’s book. And what advice does Ruzic have for aspiring artists? “Don’t quit your day job,” he says. “Read. Learn. Paint a lot and then paint some more EVERY day. Draw, draw, draw. Experiment, play, have fun. LOOK at everything. Do not forget all of those artists before you and also the ones who share your generation. Learn from them all. It’s not about you and it’s no cakewalk. Do it because you love it or don’t do it at all.”
For more information, contact ken at firstname.lastname@example.org or call his studio (714)998-6018.