Since the 1990s, US painter Lisa Ruyter has applied a curiously levelling, colour-by-numbers-like technique to photo-derived images of subjects ranging from bland scenes of leisure to moments of history-defining significance. Surrendering imagery to techniques akin to Photoshop, Ruyter irons out the creases of memory and experience to reveal a flat, floating world of likenesses. If she courts accusations of blandness, her use of colour (often toxic-looking) is punchy enough to keep thoughts of pure décor at bay.
Here, in paintings based on Depression-era photographs – many of them iconic – taken during the 1930s by the likes of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration photography project, Ruyter ratchets up a notch a sense of tussle between the real and the mediated. Expunged from these paintings is the dirt and grime – what Lange called the 'human erosion' – of poverty so evident in the originals. You could make a case for insensitivity. Ruyter's sharecroppers start to look like matinée idols, their dire circumstances served up in undignified DayGlo – and for five-figure sums.
This, however, would be to mistake Ruyter's subjects as people rather than images. The concerns here are how pictures become lodged in the brain, what they stand for across time and how they haunt the imagination. There's a winding road leading back to pop art but Ruyter resists the dead-eyed brilliance of Warhol's repeated imagery just as, in general, she rejects the goading po-mo light-fingeredness of pop's true heirs, like Richard Prince. Instead she toughs it out in a place of awkward questions about representation and authorship that, even if it sometimes resembles a cruelly neon-lit corner, increasingly seems her own.