Article by Oli Rogers
Just as geologists observe minutiae within rock strata and so deduce the conditions extant during their formation, so too will future generations of illustrologists be able to sift through banks of images and draw conclusions from their compacted layers. And thusly it is that traces of naively-drawn bears, owls, and deer; nostalgia-addled mid-century aesthetics; characters bespattered with tattoos and sporting large volumes of facial hair; and a preponderance of stuff inside equilateral triangles is what will be seen to comprise the petrified illustrative sediment of the early Twentieth Century.
And yet amongst the accreted layers of silt there’s something wholly less prosaic to be found – indeed, something that is literally otherworldly. That thing is cosmic dust. No one can say for sure whence this star-stuff comes – beyond a vague suggestion that it has voyaged across unfathomably vast gulfs of space and time before becoming sandwiched between layers of pond scum – but one thing is for sure, and that’s that it really couldn’t have less to do with conditions here on Planet Earth. And, once again, it is just so in the fictitious field of illustrology: at times an artist is encountered that seems to have so little in common with the prevailing milieu that they might just as well have come from a different world entirely. Such an artist is João Ruas.
The singular nature of this artist’s work is immediately recognisable. Rendered largely in brooding monochrome with judiciously-applied flashes of colour or gilding, his paintings have more than a little about them of the cartoons of da Vinci – were the Renaissance polymath to take to illustrating hallucinations of the relics of some long-vanished culture, that is. To view Ruas’s portfolio is to witness a parade of sinuous and melancholy figures amidst bones and masks and fantastic costumes, and attended by a menagerie of the baleful and the feral. His animals are creatures out of myth described in the language of dream, and as far from the prevailing tweeness of their contemporaries as is a wolf from a Chihuahua. Amongst other places, this mythical aesthetic has found its perfect application in the celebrated covers that Ruas has produced for the Fables series from Vertigo Comics (see the latter pair of images here).
Those who want to see more would be well advised to conduct an image search, as Ruas’s dedicated sector of cyberspace contains only a tiny fraction of the multitudes of his captivating (and at times NSFW) images that are to be found around the web. They may be scintillae within the strata, but they’re also a reminder that somewhere out there there’s stardust to be found.