People Issue

Dallas Artist Edward Ruiz Is Trying to Do the Impossible: Make Stage Magic Sexy

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Stanton Stephens. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

You know you've arrived at Edward Ruiz's Exposition Park studio when you are greeted by a model dinosaur standing guard on the sidewalk. Inside, things get no less strange, as you're further welcomed by projects Ruiz recently finished or that are still in progress: white Fortress of Solitude-esque monoliths from a recent fashion show; paintings of a leather-jacket-wearing skeleton combing his exposed brains; hand-cast resin action figures of a cartoonish monkey; and a monkey-and-racoon duo.

Ruiz comes out from the back, where he's been working and playing Rambo in the background. The Oak Cliff-born artist is 40 now, and has long been dividing his time between projected images and geometric sculptures and working as the deck electrician at the Dallas Opera. But his latest endeavor pulls together the technical and dramatic: He's bringing old-school illusions to Dallas, and he's building them himself.

He already has a handful built. Some you've heard of, like the Sword Basket or the Mismade Lady, where the lovely assistant's head, torso and legs keep rearranging themselves in a series of cabinets. Most modern magicians shy away from these classic tricks, but Ruiz has learned that audiences love them. "Most people have never seen a Sword Basket before," he says.

Even if they have, Ruiz has mixed it up some. For his performances with the Ruby Revue Burlesque, a variety show at the House of Blues, he has tailored his illusions for a grown-up audience. Take the Sword Basket. His lovely assistant steps in, Ruiz runs several swords through it, and as he pulls each sword out, a piece of clothing comes out with it. They call it the Strip Basket.

Ruiz has a way, generally, with boxes. Stacked across the front of his studio are more than a dozen pinhole cameras, or camera obscura. He started building them some time after hearing about a matchbox camera, a device that involves only photo paper and a box with a hole. Since then he's built large and ornate ones: tapering wooden boxes with Moorish tiles and gold latches, all proportioned after the golden ratio of antiquity. People are often surprised when they look inside and see there are no lenses or complicated apparatus. It's just a hole in the front and photo paper in the back.

"It's the light that carries information," he says, sounding for a moment like an honest-to-God sorcerer, just how our magicians should sound.