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Candy Man

The past year has been good to Hector Ruiz, artist and owner of the downtown art gallery the Chocolate Factory. After a successful show at the Heard Museum — he sold every piece — Ruiz was picked up by Bentley Projects, is touring Romania this fall, and has a show at the Smithsonian coming up. Not bad for a first-generation American from Texas who almost failed out of art school. A product of both traditional Mexican culture and modern America, Ruiz understands the pressure immigrants are under and says his work reflects their unheard voices and frustration. His views are certainly controversial — detractors have told him to "go back to Mexico" more than once — but this santo of the Valley art scene isn't stopping anytime soon.

On the Heard Show
The Heard show raised some eyebrows. The response was good, and only a few people were negative toward it. They felt it wasn't Indian enough. There's those people who feel happy with more traditional Indian stuff because it didn't really challenge them so much. I mean, Indians were assimilated and brought into the culture, so it's only natural that they're doing contemporary work.

On Immigration
I have a lot of empathy for people here. Culture changes so rapidly, I think they're unprepared for it. They have idealistic views about what it's going to be like. I do a lot about what it's like for them — they're taken advantage of. I keep an eye on what's happening and I deal with it in my work, and I think a lot of people related to it, but they're not ready to do art about it. It's given them a voice.

And Why He Wants to Move On
I feel like I was dealing with it [immigration] for years and years, and now that it's such a big thing, I've almost shied away from it. The point was to bring it to a talking point, and I feel like it's close to there. There's not a ton more views I can put out on it. I feel like it's overkill to do a lot of art about it.

Why He's Not "Going Back"
When I express opposing views, people tell me, "Why don't you go back there if you don't like it?" For me it's like you don't want to leave, you just want to change it. Make it better. But the easy answer for a lot of conservatives is "just get out of here." America in my eyes has become better because of all the change it's had to go through. The forefathers never planned it like this, but I think it's better. In my opinion, they were shortsighted.

Living the Dream, but Not Leaving
My philosophy has always been, the people who stay here will reap the rewards. People stay here a certain amount of time and they just go crazy and feel like they have to get out. But I like the slowness of it all, and I get tons of studio time. My friends in San Francisco and Brooklyn are almost doing everything but art. I like that this town isn't there yet. It still has room for growth, whereas in L.A. you have to get in where you fit in. Here you can actually shape the city.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin