With the flow
Ruby Barrientos carries a backpack loaded with sketchbooks.
“I work full time, but when I’m not working, I try to draw all the time,” she said. One recent sketch of a busy, almost frenetic line drawing of a male face—no one in particular—just about sums up her style. With confident lines and a loose, spontaneous technique, she draws abstracted portraits, often in profile, often of imaginary subjects. If you had to guess who her guardian angels are, there’s a good chance your list would start with Basquiat, Keith Haring and Mayan gods.
Barrientos feels an affinity with all of those—Picasso and Van Gogh, too. In some sense, every artist’s work is a dialogue with the historical works that precede it. But, to Barrientos, the important part is the simple act of filling those sketchbooks, canvases and walls with whatever comes to mind.
“I’m a creator,” Barrientos said, taking a break from hanging her paintings in two small gallery rooms in Reno Art Works. “But I’m also trying to destroy, in a sense, what people think art is supposed to be. I feel like it’s a reflection of soul, of your authentic self. This is me expressing my true self. Some people intellectualize it too much.”
Barrientos thinks of her work as a tribute to her father, who passed away about 20 years ago, when she was 10, only a couple of years after her family migrated from El Salvador to the U.S.
In 2017, she visited El Salvador. She spent time with several family members who are artists. Relatives said her mannerisms reminded them of her dad’s. During an excursion to some ruins, her cousin’s wife pointed out some Mayan imagery and said, “That kind of looks like your art.”
Barrientos said the trip made her feel more connected to her family and her roots, and it gave her some renewed artistic energy.
“I was creating even more,” she said. “It was like a spark. It was momentum. That pushed me.”
She also spent a lot of time in 2017 drawing in Sol Kava Bar in downtown Reno. “It’s kind of nice to draw when the world’s just moving round you,” she said. That experience gave her momentum, too.
“Strangers would come, and they’d kind of talk with me,” she said. One out-of-town visitor told her that he’d always wanted to draw a banana.
“I’m not trying to be a perfectionist,” she said. “I told him, just draw it, whatever.” She lent him her materials, and he ended up with a finished piece. “It came out cool,” she said. “It kind of reminded me of the Velvet Underground cover.”
Small interactions like that are important to Barrientos. “I like that, getting people engaged to be present, doing something that they don’t even realize they have in them,” she said.
Another time at Sol, she was on the receiving end of the encouragement. Owner Kristen Jaskulski remarked that her bold, black-and-white line drawings would make a good coloring book. By holiday season, the coloring book, Haphazard Doodles, was published. It’s still for sale on Sol’s website.
For Barrientos, whether she’s working on a coloring book, an exhibition, a collaboration or a scaled-up piece of graffiti art on a wall—something she’s taken to lately—she’s guided by the same idea. “I start off with something, and I just sort of get in the flow and I go with it,” she said. Ω