The year is 2003. A 6-year-old brown-eyed girl rides in the backseat of a rusty pickup truck covered in quilted blankets, fluffy pillows and the scattered residue of cheddar Ruffles. Her short legs are packed between those of her two sisters as they share giggles.
The wind danced through their dark hair as they rode to Mexico. Each bump in the road sent the luggage strapped atop of their mother’s truck in slight suspension.
For Long Beach State ceramics student Ruby Gomez, these short trips to see family slowly morphed into inspiration for the foundation of a budding art career.
As the now 26-year-old prepares to finish her senior year, she oscillates between her past and the present to influence her future artistic direction. Challenged by Long Beach State professors, Gomez works through her adolescence to bring a fresh, distinct style to the art scene.
“Everything I’ve made has everything to do with my identity and culture. It has everything to do with growing up and processing my life,” Gomez said.
Her most recent gallery, titled “I find you in every lifetime,” is best described as a harmonic blend of her culture, upbringing and relationships.
“I have all of these little memories and past things that have happened, and I’m taking them into the present with me. I want to cement those moments in a way because I want them to exist forever,” she continued.
While Gomez has been experimenting with various art mediums since high school, creativity runs in her blood.
“My mother was an oil painter. I remember waking up early in the morning and going to the garage to see her doing these big paintings. She would let me help here and there,” Gomez said.
It wasn’t until the young artist-to-be turned 13 years old that she picked up a paintbrush and finally caught the bug. But as a ballet dancer from an early age, her days were consumed by stretchy leotards, pink slippers and pliés.
Inevitably, the bug slept quietly on the back burner, where it’d fester for years to come.
Younger sister Kayla Gomez watched the process first-hand.
“Ruby was always naturally gifted creatively. I think it became most apparent when she started art classes in high school,” her younger sister said.
“As a kid, I think Ruby had very big emotions that she didn’t always know how to express. And I can tell she really found something that she can really pour her heart into,” Kayla said.
Before transferring to CSULB, the Coachella Valley native grappled with unanswered questions. Was a career without art the right one? Gomez reminisced about the ceramics courses she took for fun during her high school years.
The feeling of wet clay hardening around her fingertips took up every corner of her mind. She thought of the texture, the sound of throwing it on the pottery wheel, the scent of the glaze and the warmth of the freshly lit kiln. Just like that, the bug was out of hibernation.
Not only was it awake, but it had since multiplied.
“I took every single art class that I could because I didn’t want to let it [art] go,” Gomez said.
Soon enough, the transfer student found herself pursuing ceramics full-time.
After all, Gomez saw the effects of the creative critter that didn’t make it out alive. A tale as old as time — the artist devoid of a vision. The writer who could no longer write. The grumpy forty-something who couldn’t properly express their emotions. It’s all the same.
Gomez wouldn’t become a cliche. So she dove head-first, drowning in every piece of work she created. One of which she spent the entire summer making.
It began with a drive to the mountains with her uncle back home in the valley.
Together, they scoured the peaks for soil, collecting generous handfuls to throw in the bed of their truck. Afterward, she spent hours sifting through the dirt, watching the impurities fall from the pile.
Gomez gathered cups of water and bags of asphalt to emulsify the thick element, and she noticed how the small rectangular mixtures lost their porosity and moistness.
The process was strenuous and time-consuming, but it was also primal. It represented everything she loved about art, from the labor to the fulfilling intentionality.
Like every bit of art she had put out before, it gave her purpose. It stood for something greater: connection.
While not everyone can relate to Gomez’s childhood and experiences, the artist hopes viewers find bits of themselves, their friends and their families through her pieces.
“My end goal is to be happy and to keep making work that resonates with everybody without sacrificing myself,” Gomez said.