Aside from his Armani glasses, Ruben Ochoa is the definition of unprepossessing. The soft-spoken, Los Angeles-based artist doesn't pontificate about his work. Rather, he speaks with a subdued and almost childlike excitement about his upcoming show at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, his first major East Coast exhibition in a career that has focused on the cultural phenomena of his native Southern California.
"I hope you don't mind hopping around a little," Ochoa said as he walked around Hallwalls' exhibition space in the Church on Delaware Avenue. On the floor, there's a boxed-up 16-by-24-foot vinyl canvas print of Ochoa's work that he hasn't yet seen and is just dying to unravel.
As he unfolds the canvas, a verdant ficus tree reveals itself, approaching life-size. It emerges from the rough concrete of a Los Angeles sidewalk, its limbs stretching skyward. The canvas is actually a meticulously Photoshopped amalgam of dozens of pictures Ochoa took of ficus trees and curbs in and surrounding Los Angeles as part of an exhibition -- titled "Clastic Rupture" -- that explores the phenomenon of the trees' unlikely existence in the city. The show includes the canvas (running along the ceiling and dropping down at 90 degrees to the floor), six large photographs and several small pop-up cutouts of ficus trees meant to be viewed through long plastic cases.
As Ochoa explained, ficus trees are native to South America and were planted across Los Angeles after World War II because of the abundant shade they provide for pedestrians. What no one seemed to plan for, however, was the way the trees would break through the concrete of streets and sidewalks, their roots seeking out and finding water even in the driest environments.
The work, Ochoa said, explores how the trees are "coalescing into an object" -- in this case the sidewalks -- and the way that environment is changed by the trees and how that effect is dealt with across the socioeconomic strata of Los Angeles.
John Massier, visual curator at Hallwalls, draws a connection between the trees and the huge immigrant population of Southern California.
"If Ochoa's ficus is a metaphor for the large number of displaced immigrants (legal or not) throughout Southern California," Massier wrote in a short essay on Ochoa's work, "it functions as a signifier of inevitability, a member of the community whose roots are deep and powerful and becoming more enmeshed in its environment every day."
Linder on The Old Pink
Also appearing simultaneously at Hallwalls is a 45-foot-long, pen-and-ink drawing of a panorama of objects from behind the bar at favorite local watering hole The Old Pink (officially known as Two-Two-Three Allen). The drawing is by recent Buffalo transplant Joan Linder, whose work is often on a scale of one-to-one and explores, as she writes in her artist statement, "the beauty disclosed in the close scrutiny of natural and man-made structures."
Linder's pen-and-ink approach is a shift from her previous mode of expression, painting.
"I love the idea of it being permanent, like you couldn't really change it," Linder said in an interview. "Once I made something, I made it. And I like this idea of sort of looking at something really slowly and for a long time, almost like the opposite of a snapshot, like a stop-frame animation."
WHAT: "Joan Linder: The Pink" and "Ruben Ochoa: Clastic Rupture"
WHEN: Both open with a reception at 8 p.m. Saturday and run through May 26
WHERE: Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave.
INFO: 854-1694 or www.hallwalls.org