Photo-media artist Troy Ruffels extends the boundaries of traditional photography towards a realm of limitless creative possibilities. Observing and recording sites within the Tasmanian wilderness and beyond, Ruffels draws from multiple source images to arrive at his final works. In doing so the artist weaves a highly personal and emotive response to various locations within the natural world that have remained lodged in his imagination. His process allows for a range of atmospheres and moods to be evoked, from a dreamlike softness, to a densely weighted gravity.
In this exhibition certain locations reappear such as the Scottish highlands in Bracken and Symphony No 9. In Bracken the fusion of majestic slopes rising up in the background, fern fronds illuminated in de-saturated gray, and the smattering of white stars across the entire surface combine to create an enigmatic view that is at once foreign and familiar. It reflects a sense of duality that is often present in Ruffels’ work, where opposed states come together in a symphonic confluence. The most universal and immediate manifestation of this is the threatening beauty Ruffels cultivates within his work, which is both seductive and uneasy. It calls to mind the romantic concept of the sublime, the beauty and terror found within nature on a grand scale against which humankind is rendered somewhat inconsequential.
Ruffels also creates varied textural marks and surface affects that immediately draw the viewer out of the illusionistic pictorial space within the image, and back to the material surface. This is a pronounced feature of his recent images of the sea. Here the artist has worked on steel etching plates to create scratches, marks and even fingerprints which are then transposed to digital format and incorporated within the final work. The raw abrasive quality of these marks disrupts the photographic perfection of the image. Ruffels notes that he consciously seeks to convey a human presence through leaving the evidence of the artist’s hand, disrupting the essentially cool and documentary quality of lens based work. Through embracing this dichotomy Ruffels creates photographic work with an edge of tension, and an arresting physicality.
One of the most lasting impressions from this body of work is Ruffels’ skillful manipulation of light. This is enhanced through his unique method of printing his imagery with solvent-based inks on composite aluminium sheets, instead of ubiquitous archival papers. The reflective quality of this material creates different viewing impressions depending on shifting light effects. Ruffels’ interest in light also appears in the proliferation of luminous stars depicted in crisp night skies. Hard cold points of light against the inky black of night – the night-sky is a subject of endless human fascination, and Ruffels’ convincingly captures the profound sentiments aroused by looking at the heavens at night. While his use of reflective aluminum substrates further allows for those small stars to illuminate the cold, clear space of his invented evenings.
Overall the works in Cinder reflect a highly personal response to place, as in the process of revealing nature’s secrets the artist reveals a part of himself. Ruffels displays his impressive technical and creative prowess in transfiguring and reassembling the elements, blending fact with fiction to tell the understory of the night.
Text © Marguerite Brown 2013, Images © Troy Ruffels