Ruby Sguelia physicalises feelings in their textural, colourful illustrations

Being forced to think about new ideas and concepts in this way meant Ruby was also forced to make images in a new way, something that had a knock-on effect in all their resulting work. “Sometimes I get a brief that has me so scrambled up and those projects usually mark the beginnings of new aesthetic eras,” they explain. “My brain on Atlas definitely started off scrambled, but that put me in a place that required me to follow through on ideas and experiments that were brand new or just little seedlings. I love feeling like I ‘solved’ a drawing, and when I finished Atlas it absolutely felt solved.” In fact, the very seedlings sewn during that project went on to inform the work Ruby made for It’s Nice That and Allianz in a recent commission. “The flow from one project to another is so satisfying and working on Moment of Truth was a serious treat. I love emotional/visual/physical feedback loops and I’m still just riding the high of getting to work on two projects that create their own emotional/visual/physical feedback loops.”
When working on a new piece, Ruby will spend a lot of time thinking before anything else. “I’ve got to roll the brief around in my head for a long time before I’m ready to start putting pen to paper, and when that happens I basically scribble out a bunch of stuff and then my real ideas come from interpretations of those sketches,” they explain. Layering also plays a major role, and often they will draw on top of drawings, again and again, a technique they learned from their favourite art teacher in high school. “When we did observational drawing she would tell us to ‘make it less wrong and more correct’, and that is like the mantra of my practice. I’ve changed the meaning slightly over time but when I’m working I’m just building upon the marks on the page and making it less wrong, and more correct.”
Having someone or something infiltrate their “bubble” and pull them out their comfort zone in this way is when Ruby feels they make their best work. A recent brief started in June called Atlas is testament to this. It was a response to a call for submissions from the Lincoln Center and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), looking for artists to create a mural. In line with an exhibition called Faces of the Hero, the brief asked entrants to visualise their interpretation of the word “hero” and where it fits into the modern world. This was a new challenge for Ruby, as she is used to dealing “in feelings – not cultural archetypes,” but ultimately it was an incredibly rewarding one.
Their process involved “walking out of the intensely personal individual subconscious and into the collective subconscious,” and a realisation that heroism is when “sacrifice and selflessness define the modern hero, whereas a hero in the classical sense has a whole lot more personal growth going on.” Ruby, therefore, looked to the story of Atlas who, in Greek mythology, was condemned to hold up the heavens (or sky) for all eternity. “There’s nothing about Atlas that makes him a hero,” Ruby says, and although not fitting with the classical hero archetype, in modern terms, “Atlas is exactly the kind of guy we would call a hero on the news,” hence why Ruby decided to depict him.