Thomas Ruff: Nudes

Since his time at the Dusseldorf Art Academy, Ruff has been fascinated by the work of Gerhard Richter. Born in Dresden in 1932, Richter had developed a style of painting that used photographs as a starting point. He used his own photographs or images cut from magazines and newspapers and reproduced them through a time-consuming process of painting, commenting on the difference between the photographic image and the painted image.

Like many artists before him Richter was fascinated by the human form and produced very beautiful, often blurred images of female nudes, some of which are quite explicit. Ruff, having studied Richter’s work, began to investigate the nude as a genre. He became fascinated by the proliferation of pornographic images available on the internet, which are usually very low resolution (only 72 pixels, or dots of colour, per inch). Taking these low-resolution images Ruff removed extraneous details, altered the tone, contrast and colour and produced them on a much larger scale, creating a refined but very blurred image.

Some of these images are explicit, but through his manipulation of the material Ruff softens the subject matter. He turns the conventional into something lavish while at the same time the sense of detachment, apparent in most of his work, is amplified.

With the nudes, Ruff substitutes something celebratory for suspicion and anger; he takes on a genre everyone is an expert on but few artists have employed without running into trouble… these pictures are analytic… objective, but they’re also sweetly, luxuriously visual. Up close… skin melts into tiny, pointillist pixels, which then warp and moiré; colors shift, pictorial space contorts. Sex slips into something ravishingly, optically comfortable.

Jerry Saltz, ‘Ruff Trade’ in Village Voice, 30 May 2000