If you have visited the Scope Art Fair during Basel you're probably familiar with the work of Dallas artist Rusty Scruby. The 46-year-old artist creates photo-based constructions and labor-intensive intricate pieces in which he presents images of recent events alongside images of his childhood to conjure visual narratives at once ambiguous yet oddly familiar.
But after getting robbed of years of work---17 pieces were stolen---at a Motel 6 in Palm Desert California on his way to his first Los Angeles solo show at the PYO Gallery a few weeks ago, the event became the inspiration behind Scruby's next exhibit opening at Pan American Art Projects next month in Wynwood.
"Here WiFi" is his response to the robbery that took a bizarre turn and came to a bitter end when several works scheduled to go on display here next month, some valued up to $15,000., were discovered on sale or destroyed at a California thrift store.
"I was on my way to L.A. for my show and had stayed the night at a Motel 6 in the desert," says Scruby. "When woke up and went to pay my bill I saw the door of the U-Haul truck I had rented for the trip from Dallas ajar, all my work missing and the packing material scattered," he says.
Scruby reported the theft to local police and showed them a catalog documenting the missing works. "I had the catalog with me for the show that had been funded by an NEA grant for a museum show in Texas." The artist contacted his Houston, Dallas and Miami galleries and they scrambled to send some of his pieces in time for his opening in Los Angeles.
Things took a turn for the worse when he received an email from a stranger who had purchased three of his stolen works, some slightly damaged, for $80 at the Angel View Thrift Mart in Indio, California.
It turns out the crooks donated some of his works to the thrift store where the man who had contacted Scruby for advise on repairing the pieces had stumbled upon them.
"When I got to the thrift store I found some of my stolen pieces on display and for sale cheaper than some of the posters hanging next to them," says Scruby. "Even though I had the cops with me and the catalog identifying them as mine, they didn't return them to me because of a strange store policy.
The artist was told to return at a later date because a thrift store employee told him his work had to be sent to their main warehouse where he could claim them. When Scruby returned he was shocked to discover some of the works had been run through a shredder during a "warehouse cleaning."
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"I ended up having to pay the thrift store $29.99 to get the rest of my work back," groaned Scruby. "When I finally got in touch with the guy who had send me the email he gave me directions to his house in Cathedral City where I picked up the three pieces he bought at the thrift shop and refused my offer to reimburse his $80 dollars."
The artist says he is recreating some of the stolen works for his theft-based installation opening during the March Second Saturday art walk in Wynwood.
See his solo exhibit at PanAmerican ArtProjects (2450 NW Second Ave., Miami) from March 5 to April 16. Call 305-573-2400 or visit panamericanart.com.