Rick Araluce is best known for making miniature worlds. His mysterious, tea cup-sized rooms are outfitted with immaculate details—delicately peeling paint, hand-turned doorknobs fit for a mouse, bricks the size of sugar cubes. Though he’s scaled up and gone giant for installations at venues like Suyama Space, his tiny sets have toured museums and galleries around the nation. His solo show at Bellevue Arts Museum earlier this year was filled with small scenes, magnetized moving parts and peepholes looking into shrunken Wonderlandscapes. Araluce and his girlfriend Kitty have been living in their South Park home for ten years, where Araluce also keeps a studio. The day we arrive to shoot, a double rainbow just happens to be lighting the way—a fitting entrance to Araluce’s larger and louder-than-life personality.
The upstairs is packed with art: neon in the dining room (casting a cool glow on the couple’s twenty-something-year-old pet turtle in a terrarium). The living room has a Ricardo Martinez de Hoyos over the couch. Under glass (and over cat) a gouache and pastel drawing by Rafael Coronel. “My dad was an art collector and was really into the Mexican masters like Rufino Tamayo,” Araluce explains. “I scarfed these two.”
An ambrotype from 2012 (made by Daniel Carrillo).
Two pieces by Nola Avienne. “I was one of the many artists in town she talked into having their blood drawn for her Donor Wall Project. She really had to dig into me to get after it. I was such a baby. But she promised me a sticker and a gummi bear after!”
The Araluce studio is underground, past a bunch of Peep art (the “Peep Show” being an annual tradition for employees of Seattle Opera, where Araluce is a leading scenic artist) and a seemingly color-coordinated collection of rubber gloves. Araluce started working at the Opera in 1997, building sets. Before that he worked independently with production companies in Hollywood, and eventually became a darling of music video producers. The first music video he worked on was with Danny Elfman, who is now one of Araluce’s many avid collectors. Araluce went on to work on videos for Tool, Kyuss, Jimi Hendrix and Brazilian heavy metal band Sepultura.
“I used to build military models—tanks and planes—when I was a kid. I would take these pretty bitchin’ models and make them even better, thinning out the bulky plastic parts, adding detail. I won awards for them when I was ten, eleven….thirteen.” As Araluce explains the origin of his obsessions, he digs around in a cardboard box on the floor. “This has been in storage for years. Oh my god, I haven’t looked at this in forever! Let’s take off the dead spider….”
“When I lived in LA, I used to do a lot of work with La Luz De Jesus Gallery,” Araluce says. “They had a show—a Day of the Dead show of some kind—and I made a little vitrine with a bird skeleton or something. I started making more things in that vein. I thought it was really fun, but as an artistic practice I wasn’t sure if I thought it was legit. It’s kinda too fun. Of course I knew about Joseph Cornell and all those folks. I just kept getting more and more into it, getting more elaborate, focused more and more on interiors. Interiors have so much narrative quality, at least for me. A tipped over chair, a half-opened door, a wire snaking somewhere, a broken window…all of it is clues to a riddle. To miniature alternative realities.”
“I make almost everything by hand from scratch these days,” Araluce explains. “It involves a lot of unconventional use of drills, razor blades, sandpaper, files—whatever it takes.”
“Me and my brother in 1970. I was nine!”
“A friend made this portrait of me when I was about twenty.”
“I did this for a Smoke Farm installation. It was installed inside a big barn. From the inside you could just see a random box up against the wall, blending in with all the junk and crap there. But on the other side of the barn was this little window and if you peered through it, you’d see the inside of this room all lit up—well….as well as the light on an LED battery could last, which is just a few hours.”
A little crutch. (It’s barely an inch across, frame included.) “For some reason there’s something about crutches I like,” Araluce says. “I’ve included them in many of my works. I haven’t broken many bones myself. Just some toes—nothing very dramatic.”
One last stop on the way out: one of Araluce’s favorite neighborhood haunts, Loretta’s.