Russ Rubin and the Affordable Art Fair

A couple of weeks ago I had been selling copies of my book “Romantic Lowlife Fantasies” at the House Of Yes Bushwick Block Party when my friend and very talented painter Russ Rubin strolled by. He was checking out Bushwick open studios with his gallery owner, Shivang Jhunjhnuwalaof the Hong Kong-based Young Soy Gallery. 

They invited me to check out their booth at the Affordable Art Fair. Being that I am truly a fan of Russ’s work, of course I wanted to talk to him about his work and attend the event. Here are some of the things I saw and people I met at the Affordable Art Fair:

Galerie Duret

Sherri Littlefield

Owner, Curator, and Director of the treat gallery

A corner of an art gallery wall painted periwinkle purple and white. There are 4 photographs hanging on the lefthand purple side and 8 photographs on the righthand white side. On the wall is written "Inspired by Pantone 17-3938 | Very Peri"
Wall at an art gallery with 5 photographs hanging on it all matching a periwinkle purple color scheme. Two smaller shelves sit below the photos and have small objects sitting on them.

Tell me about the gallery…

Sherri: Everything treat gallery does raises funds for nonprofits and charities. We do a variety of things whether it be choosing a nonprofit first and working with them and then exhibiting something related to that nonprofit. 

The theme of this show is Very Peri the Pantone color of the year and I made it a point to reach out to established and emerging artists. Some people are showing for the first time in this booth. We want to give opportunities to emerging artists and art at price points that are affordable to first-time buyers.

Wall at an art gallery with 4 photographs hanging on it all matching a periwinkle purple color scheme. Two smaller shelves sit below the photos and have small objects sitting on them.
Abstract sculpture sitting on a white shelf. A clear rectangle-shaped container has a gold glitter rounded stick coming out of it and the container is filled with dollar bills. The wall behind the sculpture is a vibrant purple color.

What inspired you to do this?

Sherri: I think there is a lot of dishonesty in the art field but there are also a lot of really good people. I wanted to show that there could be good relationships between curators, dealers, gallerists and buyers. A lot of artists struggle to work with galleries and have been burned and they feel like it’s a scam. Open calls can be a scam sometimes, I totally get it. I wanted to build something that was transparent to do good for other people. Hopefully, this is something that can do good for people along the way in the art field.

What’s next for treat Gallery?

Sherri: I want to do something technology based so from time to time I’ll have a guest curator come in. We have our first VR headset here. This is a world that’s new and definitely has an audience. The same with NFTs I have a good understanding of NFTs but I don’t deal with NFTs. I’d love to find an emerging curator and give them the freedom to do an exhibition under the Treat Gallery umbrella.

Two photographs hanging on an art gallery wall. The photo on the left if of someones legs sticking in the air wearing cheetah print roller skates. The background of the photo is a gradient of purple, blue, and pink colors. The photo on the right is of a women in black pants and a tank top sitting on the ground with cheetah print roller skates. The floor and wall behind them is covered in a purple, blue, and pink gradient color.
A woman with hot pink hair smiles for a picture in front of a gallery wall of photographs. She wears a black blazer and a colorful, printed shirt underneath. The wall behind her has 7 pieces of art; an abstracts black and white photo, two pictures of someone wearing roller skates, a blue and black piece with blue lines, a rectangle covered in a pink and purple gradient, and two tiny images.

Shivang Jhunjhnuwala

Gallery owner of Young Soy Gallery

Gallery wall that has 14 pieces on it. Some of the framed pictures are intricate patterns, one is a collage of faces on foreign money, 3 are illustrations redrawn cereal boxes, and there is a set of 4 illustrations of people in a city.

Young Soy Gallery is a fairly new enterprise, can you tell me a little about your inception and mission statement?

Shivang: Our mission is simple: To cultivate, and celebrate radical cultural influences.

We entered the art world for two simple reasons. Number one, we discovered some extraordinary artists that were not getting the exposure they deserved, and number two we noticed there was a desire for a gallery like Young Soy to participate. 

Ultimately what it comes down to is that we envision Young Soy as a gallery that can facilitate the growth of radical artists while making sure we do it in an amusing way where everyone feels welcome. We are not so concerned about where we fit in, or how we differentiate ourselves from the rest of the art world. Instead what we give our time and energy to is making sure we are doing a good job by staying laser-focused, and that we are forever evolving with our artists. 

We have always been invigorated by the idea set forth by artist Makoto Fujimura: “The arts are not a peripheral luxury for the elite few, but a central necessity, how a civilization is to be defined, and how our humanity is to be restored.”

Two people smiling for a picture in front of a gallery wall covered in images. The person on the left wears a black jacket over a green patterned shirt and black pants and the man on the right wear a blue blazer over a white t-shirt and jeans. Behind them there are colorful framed patterns, cartoonish illustrations, and sketchy drawings.
Intricate collage of foreign currency folded up so you can only see a persons face who was on the bill. The money is folded into neat squares and all arranged next to each other forming a diagonal pattern. The money is organized in a gradient from left to right starting at a blue color then transitioning into green, yellow, orange, and finally red.

How did you get synced up with the Affordable Art Fair?

Shivang: We have participated in AAF HK for the last two years, so it is an organization we are familiar with. We have always wanted to do something in New York City as it is one of the major hubs for the art world. AAF NY seemed like a good gateway for us as it is also at a relatively lower price point than other fairs for galleries to participate.

What do you look for in work when picking artists to represent / how do you find talent?

Shivang: We look for three things:

  1. Originality
  2. Evolution in the artist’s work which ideally they have been creating for a minimum of five years.
  3. Lastly, and most importantly, a tenacious spirit. Being an artist is not for the faint of heart. So we like it when we find someone who is not deterred by the hardship and is truly GOING FOR IT while being able to stomach the ride. We get excited by this and want to do whatever we can to help them get there.

In terms of how we find them, simple…FATE.

How do you think technology is changing the future of the gallery business?

Shivang: Technology has lowered the barrier to entry, so it has enabled many people to start businesses regardless of what industry. Because of this, however, it has made every industry more competitive, including the art world.

With that being said, it is important for all galleries to have an online presence these days. The overheads for setting up a website are low, and it allows people from all corners of the world to discover artists and bodies of work alike.

Luckily for us we also run a video production company. Oftentimes we use our production house resources to create compelling video content of artists we work with that allow them to communicate with our audience in their own words, and own voice and tone. This is crucial for people to discover new artists online because video is a very powerful tool for communication. 

“The arts are not a peripheral luxury for the elite few, but a central necessity, how a civilization is to be defined, and how our humanity is to be restored.”

What’s next for Young Soy Gallery?

 Shivang: We have a solo show coming up with a beast of an artist in the heart of Hong Kong which opens in mid-November. It will be the kind of show that makes you want to write home about. I cannot share more information but with patience, all will be revealed soon enough. Stay tuned, and keep your ear to the ground!

Russ Rubin

Artist (Young Soy booth)

Russ Rubin wearing a blue and brown checkered suit posing for a picture in front of his work. The wall behind him is full of ornate frames, some have been painted a sea foam green color and others gold. The paintings inside all different but have abstract, neutral-colored shapes and patterns inside.

I am loving the color palette on the new series, can you tell me more about what inspired you to move into more muted colors / how you pick your palettes?

Russ: Thanks so much. So yeah, before this work I was doing these more zoomed-in landscapes on canvas in brighter colors, like 90s Nike ACG meets screaming pinks and aquas. These newer pieces, the ‘Temporary Cure For Existential Dread’ series, started during the pandemic when I started finding these crazy-shaped frames, pulling out the mirrors and cutting wood to fit. From there I’d sit staring at the wood grain, letting the landscapes sort of emerge from the grain itself, which determined the zoomed-out scale in a sense, and then maybe the wood had an effect, a more natural feel, you know, and I just started to feel cozy in these more deserty hues. Also, my inclination is almost always more more more, and I just found I could get away with more colors, more patterns, more by lowering my voice color-wise, letting it all meld together a little more, and so far it’s been feeling pretty lush. 

How did you get connected with Young Soy Gallery? Tell me more about your relationship with them.

Russ: The internet’s a hell of a drug. I mean, I literally work out of my basement in the exotic woods of New Jersey, and one day out of the blue here’s this gallery that wants to put me in a three-person show in the center of Hong Kong. All because the gallerist’s sister Avni found me on Instagram. And it’s crazy, I was in a cool group show in London last November too, not to mention a bunch of sales that came directly from IG. It’s pretty incredible when I think about it because I’m not making the kinda work that screams at the top of its lungs, which makes it all the more meaningful. But as far as Young Soy, Shiv, Xander and the whole gallery have been incredible. They threw me into a rad show in HK with catalogs, billboards, the whole nine, and just gave me a whole wall at AAF NY. I trusted them enough to send a pallet’s worth of art across the world, they bet on me in return, and so far it’s been a hell of a ride. Excited to see how it all evolves. 

Close up of the gallery wall that shows a sculpted figure of a woman thats been painted in colorful yet muted colors to match the abstract paintings in frames behind it.
Gallery wall full of ornate frames, some have been painted a sea foam green color and others gold. The paintings inside all different but have abstract, neutral-colored shapes and patterns inside.

You mentioned starting this work in the last five years last time we spoke, what has shaped your style of painting and technique?

Russ: Truth is I’m a self-taught artist. Got laughed outta my house when I even brought up the idea of art school. So whatever I do I just kinda figured out by trying and failing along the way. But it seems to me it’s really easy to get hung up as an artist on what to focus on for a subject. For me, I’ve always doodled. In school my textbooks were filled with weird heads and patterns and all sorts of unimpressive stuff. I was never the talented artist kid, like look at what Susie drew! But there was always something that just flowed out of me, whatever it was, and it always had its own style. That’s always what I was after. Something my own. As I was getting back into painting I began teaching with this amazing program ArtWorks that has artists teach kids in hospitals. Honestly, most of the time I got to just paint along with the kids, let them get their mind off things and just express themselves, and meantime these construction paper and Crayola landscapes started to emerge in front of me. I guess I just went with it, kept burrowing into it as deep as I could go, and eventually here I am. Which is all to say sometimes maybe it’s just a matter of taking what’s already happening naturally and seeing where it leads, following it down to its depths til you get to a place where it’s so you it couldn’t be anyone else’s. That’s sort of my main philosophy as an artist, like don’t be a fake version of X or Y. Do you, be as you as you can be, whatever the hell it is. 

I just found I could get away with more colors, more patterns, more by lowering my voice color-wise, letting it all meld together a little more.

Which painters’ work do you admire/have influenced your career?

Russ: Picking up that last point, I think all my favorite artists have one thing in common, which is that you could ID their work from fifty feet away. Some of my favorites doing it now are Lauren Halsey, Arghavan Khosravi, Kerry James Marshall, Pedro Friedeberg, Joel Mesler, Nina Chanel Abney, Alan Fears, Matthew Craven and Genesis Belanger. As far as others who’ve passed, Stuart Davis, Haring, Basquiat, Bacon, Elizabeth Murray, Picasso, and Matisse have all left a mark on my artistic consciousness. As far as the work I love, it may not be overt, but I feel as though I get a little something from everything. Obviously, the lists are endless, but also just nature, certain brands, and creativity across mediums. Just being around people making new things gets me excited to discover what’s next.

Russ Rubin posing for a picture with a colorfully painted lion sculpture sitting on an orange pedestal with a black and white checkered top. On the walls behind him are colorful paintings in ornate frames.
Small statue of the famous David sculpture that has been painted over in bright colors and funky patterns. Behind the statue on the wall is a line drawing of the female body that is surrounded but red, yellow, and green paint blobs.

What’s next for Russ Rubin? 

Russ: Oh man. I’ve got a solo show coming up at Reeves Art + Design in Houston in December where I’m gonna do all sorts of crazy new stuff in this huge space. I’ve got ideas involving kiddie rides and actual bridges and sets of steps, but I’ll leave all that there before I get too carried away. There’s a new series called ‘Get Lost’ I’m excited to debut around Basel in Miami, which I built from sketches of crazy shapes into these three-dimensional shrines to the daze, like that feeling you get staring off into nature, only in this instance, the structures house little tv screens showing moving paintings I’ve animated in the most ridiculous way imaginable. So it’s this crazy combination of hopefully high art, folk art, and technology. Can’t wait to see what people think. For me the goal is always to make people go what the fuck is it, why do I love it, and let me stare at this thing for a while.

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