BYO Break-In: Alex Ruby
Twenty two year old Alex Ruby, known to some as Mole Lester (facebook name), is an artist. Simple? Not so simple. He’s an artist who’s also been, at one point, a surfboard shaper, tailor, designer, filmmaker, painter, Mormon, Californian, and most recently soul searcher. The man is on some other level. Ruby does not only claim these things, but also he does them with some finesse. His suits, for example, sell for thousands of dollars, his paintings, similarly. Oh! He has also been, at one point, a resident in the basement of an Illegal immigrant’s house. The story goes like this…
RUBY: I lived in an illegal Chinese basement under an apartment building in Little Italy, on the edge of Chinatown, in San Francisco. The neighbours did not even speak English. One time the guy who lived above us went to take a bath, he turned the water on, and then took a nap. His whole apartment flooded, and it caved into my roommate’s room. My roommate went up there to tell them, “your apartment is flooding, the water is coming into my room,” and the Chinese guy's looking at him confused like “no…no...” My roommate was from Cuba; he doesn’t really speak the clearest English, so he’s speaking broken English to people who don’t speak English who are like 90 years old. It was a pain in the ass to get the landlord to pay for repairs too.
Where was this?
That was in North Beach, about a half mile up the hill from Fisherman’s Wharf, where the seals are, and then you have Little Italy, and then Chinatown and then the Transamerica building. I lived there for just under two years, but dude, after one year, I had to get out of there. I love the city, but I couldn't live there again. Because it’s so small, and nobody has a car, you can’t get out, you start to feel trapped. You’re in it 24/7. I was managing a custom tailor shop too, so I was painting, doing my thing, and then in this store 90 hours a week where people had the most ridiculous problems.
BYO: Like what?
Like people would come in to get a suit made, and I would sit with them, choose a fabric with them, design it with them, spend the better part of two hours hitting every point with them. Sometimes they’d come back six weeks later to be fitted in it, and they’d say “oh I thought it would be a warmer shade of grey.” Don't get me wrong, it was a fantastic job, I've never worked anywhere else where I was opened to more opportunity and more connections. But with custom you tend to see a different side of people. Doing custom clothing, I’ve never heard so many grown-up, well-off, people complain about everything. Everything.
Ruby identifies as a painter, but actually went to school to study film. When he was in high school, his mum studied fashion, so he took a big part of that. Originally, Ruby wanted to go to design school for fashion, but that didn’t happen, and he ended up going to an art school instead. When he got the chance to work at the tailoring shop, he figured it was fashion school and business school put into one. However, working as hard as he was in San Francisco, something had to change, no matter how good it was. For Ruby, that change came in the form of a Dutch backpacker, her name was Laura. Laura convinced Ruby that getting out was as easy as buying a ticket. So, he got his last paycheck and followed Laura to Australia. They’re now sharing an apartment in Redfern, and everything Ruby wanted from Australia is slowly coming true. Ruby is currently renting a studio in Hibernian House, which is probably as far from his Mormon roots as he could have come.
How does your family feel about you living the creative life?
Mixed. My dad’s a graphic designer, and my mum studied fashion. So it was kind of imbedded in me from the get go, but they’re pretty mixed on it [the lifestyle and attitudes mostly]. Seeing as they’re pretty creative people they like to see that I’m always doing something, but as they’re Mormon and I’m not, they also take all of that with a grain of salt. Once I decided I wasn't Mormon anymore, things in the house got pretty tense. It eventually got to a breaking point, and I got kicked out of my house when I was 18, lived in my car for six months, and then bummed around friends' houses for the next two years or so. We [myself and my parents] didn’t talk for a while after that happened. Now we’re good again, but if I’m at home they won’t ask certain questions. If they do ask deeper questions… I’ll ask them if they really want to know the answers.
What are the deeper questions?
Do you drink, do you smoke, have you had sex, etc. That sort of stuff. If I tell them honestly, it will fuck with the whole family dynamic. Which is fucked, but it is what it is.
When Ruby was sixteen he was required by his school to write a paper on his life. He detailed the story of his family, and attempted as best he could, to write about his religion. However he realized something, he realized it wasn’t sitting well with him, and at just sixteen he was ready to start being an independent thinker. So Ruby wrote what he really thought about his family’s religion, and left it on the home computer for them to see. He’s had a few breaking points with his family, and although he supports himself financially, they seem to offer him some emotional support, and there does still appear to be some goodwill between them.
Could you see yourself living here (Sydney)?
I couldn’t really see myself settling anywhere I’m pretty restless. I'll probably be here for the next six months to a year though, I love it here.
Despite being a designer, filmmaker (continually shooting super 8 footage), and painting, his life seems like a sprawling, unlinked, set of desires. He sees himself as the sort of guy that leaves when the wind changes direction. One day he dreams of having just a big warehouse and his painting studio, his film studio, his fashion studio, and a shaping bay for surfboards, and leave the doors open to everyone. If we’re lucky, he’ll have that space in Sydney.
You can see some of Ruby’s work below, at his website www.havesomefreecandy.com or instagram.
Photography by Nathan Harmond