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Art Watch : Ruben Toledo

Ruben Toledo is our Art Watch Artist for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth – watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch. 

Why Ruben Toledo

The flamboyant, quirky, creative and definitive, Ruben Toledo is known for his whimsical fashion illustrations which are featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Elle. 

This Cuban artist was born in Havana, Cuba in 1960, came from very humble beginnings. His father owned a tailoring shop in their home town. They moved to New York in 1967, to escape Fidel Castro’s dictatorial regime. Toledo grew up in New Jersey, but amidst a vibrant Latin culture – along with many other Cuban exiles. Reuben remembers the first things that he received from the Salvation Army – a pair of white cowboy boots and a leopard skin jacket. Ruben grew up as an urban kid, who witnessed the unforgettable chaos of the ‘Bay of Pigs Invasion’. So, in many ways, the move to New York was not completely shocking for him. “To me, this was totally natural—the multicultural thing, the craziness, the street life, the hustle and bustle. That’s a normal Havana upbringing.” Reminisces the artist with a subtle, innovative humour.

“They were my first American clothes, and when everyone stared at me, I thought it was because I looked so cool,” – that in one line describes the uncommon innocence that is well preserved. His art comes from a space of no boundaries, a childlike exploration that reaches him to places that he cherishes. A sculptor, painter, fashion chronicler, reporter, a surrealist – and a fashion illustrator. His entire experience and his fervour for life comes tumbling out in his prolific works. He was not one to be contained in a straightjacket; characteristically, after a semester at the School of Visual Arts, Reuben dropped out and worked several odd jobs – selling used cars, and hanging out at the Mudd Club, where he met Andy Warhol, Klaus Nomi, Keith Haring, and others. “They were not great models for good behaviour,” he jokes, but eventually he got what he wanted. A job as a salesman at ‘Parachute’, an edgy boutique in SoHo, marking the beginning of a journey.

Artist, Process & Journey

“Ruben will draw on anything that’s in front of him,” says Isabel, his wife, his forever love, whom he met when they were still in school. A mention of the formidably talented, fashionable Isabel Toledo is essential while talking about Reuben for in every sense this husband wife duo, who were married in the 1980’s, complete each other. Hugely supportive of each other’s art and craft and opinions, they continuously propel each other into exploring and breaking new ground.

Toledo is known to have designed sets and also has authored “Style Dictionary”, an affectionate, witty commentary  of fashion absurdities. His work was compared by the late Richard Martin, curator of the Costume Institute at the MET, to the caricatures of Daumier and Grandville.

The Style Dictionary is a collection of memorable images which, which appear as drawings and watercolours and they meld fashion at its most transient along with style. As an artist Reuben has worked on several murals, portraits and album covers. His work has been appreciated and appeared in the top fashion magazines, like “Uomo Vogue”, “Harper’s Bazar”, “Paper” and “Interview”. 

Toledo’s work has been exhibited at the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – do not miss the ART WATCH

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