“The limitations of each material act as guidelines and inspiration for the work itself”: an interview with Emily Ritz

Emily Ritz1

In this preview from the 2015 edition of 580 Split, Garin Hay interviews artist Emily Ritz, whose work will be appearing in the magazine.

Garin Hay: Your work is incredibly unique, and some of that uniqueness comes from the variety of media you use to create your worlds. Tell us about the materials you’re working with in your sculptures as well as your paintings. How did you arrive at these techniques to begin with?

Emily Ritz: The materials I work with are very important because they help decide the subject matter. By playing with them, we come up with ideas together. They show me something they can do and I use their ability to enhance my visual language. The limitations of each material act as guidelines and inspiration for the work itself. For the drawings I use watercolor on wet paper so the colors drip and bleed, making beautiful shapes. This came from experimentation and play which gave me the idea to switch my process from line first, color last, to color first and then line. That was how I invented what I call ‘Lumplands’. It is when the colors make their mark on the paper, then I choose which plants go where and it slowly comes together like a puzzle.

When I make 3D versions of my plants I like using Sculpy because it is very easy to work with and you can blend colors quite well. For ages I knew I wanted to translate my plant language into 3D, but was imagining ceramics of some kind. Then one day while roaming the art store I spotted Sculpy and remembered playing with it as a kid. It’s great because I can work piece by piece and bake them in my toaster oven. Once they have hardened, arranging them on the canvas feels very similar to the puzzle aspect of the drawings.

GH: Through our conversations, you’ve remarked that you draw some of your inspiration from the nature around your home in Inverness and Point Reyes. I’m wondering if there are times of the year that certain colors, weathers, or other changes strike you and enter your work? Do you have any rituals or favorite activities to do that bring you close to your natural inspiration?

ER: I am indeed very inspired by where I live. I began developing my plant language while living in Oakland and it felt like more of an escape. I was creating worlds on paper that represented where I really wanted to be. Now l live in a world much closer to my art work. When I see five different kinds of brightly colored moss covering a tree, or a whole world of colors and textures in a tiny tidepool, all of my senses activate and I want to relate to these natural wonders, as in become them. It’s a strange sensation that I can’t fully explain. Making my art brings me closest to fulfilling this desire.

So I suppose the inspiration I receive by living here isn’t so much that I am copying a pattern or plant or color that I see; it’s more about connecting with how all the details and gems of this mysterious, magical land make me feel.

GH: There has been some shift in your paintings lately from the paracosmic botanies of your imaginary worlds to more familiar earthly animals. Yet these animals themselves are formed of the dreamlike flora reminiscent of your earlier work. I’m curious what inspired the shift to familiar animals?

ER: I am always open to new ideas on how to elevate or expand my craft. After years of making landscapes and Lumplands, a friend saw my work and said “I want to see an animal made out of this!” and it completely sparked something in me. I immediately made my first bird and got hooked. The shapes of animals make for such interesting compositions and it’s so exciting to introduce a new guideline like this to the language. It’s endlessly inspiring to me.

GH: Your plant life often looks like it might come from the ocean floor. Have you had a particular attachment to marine flora? Where did you find the inspiration for your imaginary geographies and their plants in the first place?

ER: Most of my plants really come from just playing and finding shapes and patterns that feel good to me. I am indeed very amazed and inspired by the ocean floor but it feels like my affinity for it came through making this work. It’s like I thought I was making up a language and it turns out I wasn’t the first one, and I found out who else speaks it and it’s the ocean. I can see that many of my early plants were much more grassy and flowery. Somehow it moved toward the aquatic nature over time. These days I feel a lot like I wish I were a mermaid or could at least breathe underwater so I could live in my drawings, since coral reefs are the closest things to them in the real world. I could never create anything nearly as miraculous as what lives in the ocean. Coral reefs are a true wonder, they have it all.

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