The subject of death doesn’t usually come up in celebrity interviews, so it was with surprise on both sides that Mike Ruiz dove into the topic right away. The soon-to-be-48-year-old is celebrating his birthday Friday night at XL Nightclub (“Age is an accomplishment; I’m grateful to have weathered many storms”), and I asked him why gay men don’t often admit their number.
He became, as he later joked, “philosophical.”
“It’s a fear of dying,” says Ruiz. “It’s pretty much all of society. No one wants to admit how close they are to death. I think that it also has a lot to do with what people want to do with their life. People feel like they could have done things different, or done more. They get really anxious because the window is closing.” As for gay men, Ruiz added, “You have the whole aesthetic factor. Gay men want to stay young and pretty-looking as long as possible.”
Ruiz is celebrating the Big Day with a host of celebrity guests, including Carmen Electra, Martha Wash, Janice Robinson, Jason Walker, and The Ones, but if he talks about that extravaganza it’s to get attention to the Ali Forney Center, the beneficiary of the night and a prominent LGBTQ youth organization, which lost its drop-in center to Hurricane Sandy.
“I was directionless when I was in my late teens, early twenties; I was two decisions from being homeless myself,” says Ruiz on why he became involved with Ali Forney. “A lot of people are cast out by their families because they are gay. I needed to do something, not just turn away.”
Ruiz hasn’t turned away from a lot in his 48 years on planet earth, and his latest project is an interactive photographic gallery of his best-selling coffee table book Pretty Masculine. The “Pretty Masculine App” allows the viewer to peruse the photo collection as well as take part in the process of his art.
“I wanted to be innovative and bring art to a whole different demographic; to have people consume art in another way,” says Ruiz, who had originally planned to do a simple digital version of the book. “It’s a digital version, but all of the images have corresponding links, including videos coming to life. You can click on a link and you’ll go to a bio of the thing, or the artist who worked on the image. There are links to their websites, facebook page, fitness tips and interviews.”
The “Pretty Masculine App” contains a Studio Page where you can upload an image of yourself and add isolated elements of Ruiz’s work. “I’ve isolated some of the flowers, the wardrobe, the body painting, the lighting, the makeup,” says Ruiz, adding, “You can have fun with it or be serious with it. My goal was not to create something campy. I want to make people participants.”
If there’s a running theme in Ruiz’s recent work it’s to reach new audiences and grow with – not fight – technology. His Wearable Art Tees ($15 of each sale goes to the Ali Forney Center Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund) are “photographic quality prints that are one hundred percent silk. It’s like you’re wearing a print. There’s a demographic that may or may not go to museums or galleries or buy coffee table books, but they wear T-shirts.”
While these developments might sound like pure marketing, Ruiz’s vision is still on the artistic side. “Five years ago I didn’t know what an App was, let alone be spending a year and a half on one,” he says. “I want to innovate and combine different mediums. How that can be accomplished is yet to be seen.”
Ruiz’s photo-shoot resume reads like a who’s who of celebrity portraiture (everyone from Dolly Parton to Paris Hilton), and I wanted to know what everyone wants to know—who’s his dream subject?
“Lady GaGa, but from a political standpoint,” says Ruiz. “I attribute part of the election to her. She knows how to mobilize youth.” Since one almost can’t mention GaGa these days without a Madonna follow-up, it’s no surprise the M Word came up afterward. “I usually say Madonna. She has influenced me both as a gay man and creatively. She has influenced pop culture in ways that I don’t know who has.”
A few years’ back, Ruiz joined the cast of Logo’s The A-List: New York, a show as popular as it was panned. He stayed on the series for two seasons and, contrary to all those regret stories you hear from Reality TV participants, loved the experience.
“Television is a really powerful thing,” says Ruiz on the impact. “In the circuit it made me a household name. If I go out of that demographic people don’t know who I am. People have given me the opportunity to be their voice. That’s one of the big reasons I did it. I didn’t want to be famous at any cost. I had reasons, and they all panned out. I’m all about the experience and I can check it off my Bucket List.”
Oh yeah, mortality again.
The philosophy has subsided by this time and Mike just wants to have fun. “I just want to be happy,” he laughs. “If you love doing something it’s never laborious; it’s never work.” Ruiz and his partner, Martin Berusch, are planning to get married sometime soon (“We’ve been texting each other today about it”), and in the meantime there’s those candles to blow out Friday night.
“I don’t want anything,” says Ruiz on gifts. “I want people to donate to my birthday fund. I have a lofty goal of 15 thousand to raise for homeless GLBTQ youth; for people who are not household names in the world.”
http://www.aliforneycenter.org/ (The Ali Forney Center)
http://www.xlnightclub.com/friday/ (XL Nightclub)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mU-6Fr9LP7g (Check out a clip of Mike’s App)
http://www.anyoldiron.net/brands.php?brand=MIKE-RUIZ (Mike’s Tees)