This Texas-Bred Artist Wears Phoebe Philo Pants And Cowboy Boots
along with platforms, heels, and a grill.
What Artist's Wear is a monthly column that features artists, designers, and makers and explores how they think about getting dressed.
A month or so ago, I was at an art opening featuring another Basquiat rip-off when I was introduced to Ruben Burgess Jr. A multidisciplinary artist, Ruben has a look that can only be described as far from a commitment to the mundane. Long dark hair neatly braided, mustache, sunglasses, and a tailored look had me immediately place him in my mental roster of potential interviewees.
In a field where excellence in one particular craft is valued over being a jack of all trades, Ruben defies all expectations. Whether it’s line drawing, sculpting, tattoos or styling, his distinct style and high level of artistry is carried through his entire body of work. Utilizing found objects and materials like plaster, ink, and wine, his artistic practice is defined by an eager simplicity that translates into a tension between strength and fragility.
His apartment in Bushwick is an absolute monochromatic treasure trove of tchotchkes – mobiles hanging from a chandelier, statues cast in plaster, and piles upon piles of drawings stacked vertically leaning against a wall. He offers me coffee with no creamer or milk variant, which feels on brand. Read on for our conversation, below.
Hannah: How are you?
Ruben: I’m good, tired. How are you?
Hannah: Fair to middling. Were you out late last night?
Ruben: I was, I was out very late two nights in a row. Which I guess is not not normal.
Hannah: Well it never ceases to surprise how small the art world in NYC really is. Was that surprising to you when you moved here?
Ruben: Not really, I feel like it’s kind of known that the art world is small here. I lived in Dallas for many years, and it’s a big hub for the arts, so I was always familiar with how small the art world is. But there are always some surprises, you could be at a bar in Bushwick and there are some heavy hitters just chilling.
Hannah: You draw, sculpt, style, tattoo, and you work for a watch company, Breda. Did I miss anything?
Ruben: That’s about it!
Hannah: It’s quite the hefty resumé. Since this column mainly focuses on artists’ clothing, tell me about your style.
Ruben: My style has definitely evolved over the years. At this point, I know exactly how I want to express myself with clothing. It’s a lot easier when you’re fully confident in yourself and your closet and you can just close your eyes and throw something on without having to think about it too much. I like to consider what silhouettes and shapes work for me, keeping in mind volume and draping. Occasionally I’ll throw in a pop of color in the mix, but it’s mostly monochromatic. I’m also boot-heavy, and I love platforms and heels.
Hannah: You’re decked out in silver jewelry, which is also my metal of choice. Do you have any piece that has a particularly good story behind it?
Ruben: I love my grill, made by New York artist Hiro Lamarsh. Just incredible work. I knew I wanted a three-piece top and bottom, but I let him have full creative freedom with the design. He has such a unique style.
Hannah: You’re not just any garden variety artist when it comes to your look. Long hair, sunglasses, trucker hat, tailored clothing: you clearly have a trademark look. When did you come into your style?
Ruben: It started when I first found the right pant. You know when you see an item of clothing that you like, whether it’s on the runway or in the streets, but for the longest time you can’t find anything like it. When I first found that pant it was this golden moment where I was like, “Oh my god, this is what I want to shape my aesthetic around”
Hannah: What are the pants?
Ruben: They are a vintage Céline Phoebe Philo era pant. A black slack with a slight flare that drops perfectly and drags on the ground a little. Once I found them I was able to over time build a shape that feels good and easy.
Hannah: When dressing for your many vocations, how does what you’re working with that day affect the way you dress? Is there a Ruben Burgess Jr. artist smock lying around somewhere?
Ruben: I generally just work in what I’m wearing. If I’m working heavily with plaster, I’ll wear this shirt that’s beautifully getting completely destroyed by my own wear and tear. It’s this linen shirt that I probably wear more than anything. I’ll wear it out, I’ll wear it fancy, I’ll wear it when I’m making art. I also have an actual apron that I wear to tattoo in, made by my friend Amberlee Patterson. She does tie-dye stuff, and she customized this apron for me.
Hannah: I wanted to ask you about the Divine Sins hat.
Ruben: The Divine Sins hat is my most recent acquisition of trucker hats. Not only do trucker hats have my favorite shape, but it’s also an ode to my time in Texas. I love trucker hats, and I like to customize them. The one I generally like the most is one I literally threw into a fire. But currently the Divine Sins one is my favorite, not only because it sends the message, but also because it’s just a good hat. It’s made by my friend George Prio; I always try to incorporate things my friends make in my outfits.
Hannah: Is it important for you to incorporate a Texas homage in your style?
Ruben: Definitely. I’m originally from LA, but Texas is a big part of me. It’s where I found myself formatively as an adult, and most of my close friends are people I met there. It’s funny, there was a point in my life when I told my mom I would never wear cowboy boots. Whenever I come home and my mom sees me in cowboy boots, she likes to make a point out of it, like, “Nice cowboy boots." Now I have a small collection of them.
Hannah: What’s something you would never wear?
Ruben: There’s a few things I wouldn’t wear. I will never get into the little scull beanies that are happening right now.
Hannah: That’s for the best. I think as a creative you’re more aware of how you dress and how it’s perceived. I do, to a certain extent. Part of it is a genuine creative expression and part of it is to show what world I’m in. Have you ever reflected on this?
Ruben: For me it’s no-yes, but saying no would be lying. I don’t dress for the outside world; I dress for myself because I feel good in what I’m wearing. But there’s this element of wanting to feel good and look good. But in the wild, you know, the trenches, if somebody says, “I don’t like your outfit” I don’t care. I dress for myself, and am pleasantly surprised when people like it.