EMERGING: Painter-Sculptor Kate Ruggeri Finds Heroism in Humble Materials

From left: "Foot", "Harp", and "Hero"
(Courtesy the Artist)

EMERGING is a regular column where ARTINFO spotlights an up-and-coming artist.

Following a fire that wrecked her studio, Chicago-based artist Kate Ruggeri is persevering by creating work that evokes hope and heroes through the unlikely materials of old clothes, buckets of house paint, and twine.


After graduating from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 2010, she’s been experimenting with merging her interests in painting and sculpture into dimensional forms swathed with reclaimed fabric and discarded materials, and coated with thick layers of paint. The results have a scrappy, tactile quality, but also a quiet gravity. This week she opens a solo show of sculpture and works on paper called “Ultimate Boon” at EBERSMOORE in Chicago’s West Loop.

“Joseph Campbell’s monomyth was my main inspiration,” she told ARTINFO in discussing the exhibition. “Since I was little I’ve been interested in myths, adventure stories, and biographies. I don’t think it’s very difficult to identify with a hero at moments in your own life.”

The title of the exhibition is a reference to the point in Campbell’s “Hero’s Cycle” when the hero has made it through tasks and trials to the quest’s goal, and can finally go home. One of Ruggeri’s sculptures, appropriately called “Hero,” strides like a DIY Giacometti, a paint-stained backpack on its shoulders and a walking stick pointing forward.

“In the past few months, I have seen great heroics in my friends and community,” she explained. “My roommate had been mugged and shot walking home, and survived. There were a number of tragic deaths in the Chicago community. My studio building had burned down and I had lost all of my work. […] In many ways the show is about hope.”

Born in Washington, DC in 1988, Ruggeri grew up in Schenectady, New York and moved to Chicago after high school for college, staying ever since. A painter at heart, she started using sculptural constructions as canvases because she was exhausted with looking at blank, flat surfaces. After building a wooden armature, she wraps it with window screens, fabric, found materials, and personal possessions.

“Cathy Wilkes said something I really liked, when asked about using personal objects in her installations,” Ruggeri elaborated. “She said she used the objects because they were safe in art; protected. I love that.”

In “Tree Gremlin,” a long-snouted creature perches on a tree, its bandage-like “bark” wound from a sleeping bag, towels, plaster, and old pairs of jeans, as well as materials like the blue latex gloves Ruggeri was wearing while painting, the art becoming “a sort of suction for all the creative energy [she] was putting into it.” The piece was partly inspired by an improv class where the teacher described the critical inner dialogue as “the gremlin on your shoulder.” 

“In my work, I try to create homages to human experience,” she said. “I see the viewer on their own journeys, having their own lives, their own struggles, triumphs. It’s a way to be self-reflective.”

To see more of Kate Ruggeri's works, click on the slideshow.