Born to a family of artists, Neri was exposed to ways of making and expressing from a very young age. Her mother’s ability to render realistic images of human figures and horses proved to have a heavy influence in Neri’s early work as a painter and a graffiti artist in the 1990s, and as subjects still remain in her work today.
The style that her father developed as a sculptor during the second generation of Bay Area Figuration also had an impact on Neri’s work, which emerged later in her life as she made the switch from painting to sculpture. Comparing one of Neri’s earlier figurative sculptures to the work that her father is best known for, a number of visual similarities are apparent and evoke the closeness of their relationship. Though their handling of materials, surface treatment, and subject are akin at first glance, a deeper look might reveal subtle yet important differences.
In 1992, Ruby moved from Nicasio, California to San Francisco, CA to study painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. Ruby’s father, Manuel was teaching at SFAI while Ruby was a student, making his presence and influence in her education almost unavoidable. Ruby stated in an interview that, “During undergrad at SFAI all my teachers were either my father’s students or his contemporaries; I felt very limited by this but was unaware of it at the time”. Despite this limitation, her experience at SFAI proved to be one of the most influential times in her life and career.
While there, she became close friends with artists Alicia McCarthy, Barry McGee, and Margaret Kilgallen. Her and her friends would later become associated with the movement known as “The Mission School”, canonized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2010, when the institution deemed the Mission School, “...the most significant art movement to emerge out of San Francisco in the late twentieth century”. In the book “Energy That is All Around”, Curator Hesse McGraw credits this group of deeply connected artists with changing the “language” of SFAI as an institution, stating that, “They have come to reflect the highest achievement of an art school, which is to cultivate artists whose work adds new strains to contemporary art, and perhaps more importantly, who care about each other enough to add life to a community of artists”.