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Q&A with Artist Barrie Ripin

Gabriela, terra cotta, by Barrie Ripin. Winner of the Marker Award for Realism in the March All-Media Exhibit, juried by Liza Key Strelka. (click for a larger image)
Gabriela, terra cotta, by Barrie Ripin. Winner of the Marker Award for Realism in the March All-Media Exhibit, juried by Liza Key Strelka. (click for a larger image)

Juror Liza Key Stelka selected Barrie Ripin’s Gabriela as the winner of the Marker Award for Realism in the March All-Media Exhibit. We asked Barrie more about his sculpture, working both in two- and three-dimensional media, and where his work is going next. Read his responses below!

You work and experiment in many different media, both two- and three-dimensional. What’s your typical day like — are you juggling different projects or focusing on one thing?

I get bored easily and I like the challenge of gaining control over new media and techniques. So, I feel that each medium is an adventure and, at least in my mind, ‘feels right’ for certain subjects or my mood.  They all have different ‘looks’ that seem to fit certain subjects best. I enjoy a combination of doing my artwork independently and as part of classes, open-life sessions, and with a weekly painting group, the Pâté Painters. My car is often loaded up with supplies for two or three different media and I often decide at the last moment which to use. I do tend to work on several pieces at any given moment. Some, like stone sculpture or refined work with models, are inherently slow multi-session processes; others are quickies, such as from Open Life sessions.

Why terra cotta?

Oh, I just love doing terra cotta pieces. I think it was Danni Dawson who first mentioned to me that the best way to get anatomy down for painting was to take a figure sculpture class, which is true. I took Paul Lucchesi’s workshop, and just fell in love with the medium for its own sake. It is so tactile, freeing and forgiving, and you end up literally with a solid piece of work. As they say, it is dirty work, but someone has to do it.

What was your goal with this piece, or with your figurative work in general? Are your goals different for a figure sculpture compared to a figure painting?

In both sculpture and 2-D figurative or portraits, I strive to get a unique sense of the model. In this case, the model had a lovely lithe figure and posed in a beautiful relaxed way. I just exaggerated her features to highlight this effect. For me, the most difficult subjects to capture are those with beautiful, but conventional features. Models with lots of ‘curves’ are also fun to work with. So really, models are the unsung heroes in art, they are the inspiration – there is no substitute for a great model – and The Art League is fortunate to have a cadre of very talented ones.

For those who haven’t worked in clay, can you briefly describe the process to a completed sculpture like this one?

Actually, this was not a complicated sculpture – I think it took only about four or five hours from scratch to finish. You start with commercial clay (which has uniform properties) and clumping together bits and pieces to eventually become the body and torso, and then refine the shapes. For me, it is important not to overly refine features, but rather try for overall effect. It is important not to violate (but you can exaggerate) the basics of artistic anatomy, unless that is the goal. Like all forms of art, the trick is knowing when to stop. When satisfied, allow the sculpture to dry thoroughly (weeks to months) and then fire in a kiln. Finally, after a surface patina is applied in a myriad of ways, it is mounted.

Gabriela (detail) by Barrie Ripin (click for a larger image)
Gabriela (detail) by Barrie Ripin (click for a larger image)

How did you arrive at a career in art after your other careers? Has your experience with science/diplomacy/family informed your creative process?

I think that I finally came back to use of the right side of my brain after years of disuse (I did practically no art from college throughout my career). My wife gave me a birthday present of a basic drawing class, which released my long suppressed love of doing art. Best gift ever! But thinking about the gratification I got from doing art, I realized that it was very similar to those of doing science etc. Few go into science for the money (and, surely that applies to art also), but rather it is the self-satisfaction “psychic-pay” one gets doing something creative, discovery, and receiving the respect of your peers – and that is the same for art.

You won the Marker Award for Realism. What does realism mean to you as a contemporary artist?

I was exceeding pleased to receive the recognition, of course – lots of psychic-pay here (lol). Surprised too. I don’t strive for ‘realism,’ but whatever comes out, comes out. I thought it was neat that the juror stretched the conventional idea of realism a bit here – usually I think it is thought of as a detailed and close to accurate replication of the subject. I’ve tried on occasion to push myself into the abstract world, but forcing it never works – I do best when going with the flow of my hands.

What’s your first memory of art as a child?

I’m sure that I did my with crayons, finger painting, etc. before the age of remembering. But my first vivid art memory is of lobbying parents for an oil ‘paint-by-numbers’ set, in which I consciencously filled in the hundreds of little areas – lol. Oh my gosh, how tedious, and atrocious! But somehow it sparked my going at it with real oils and acrylics throughout my boyhood and adolescence, totally without any instruction. My first art sale was at about age 10 to a friend’s mother, who offered me 12 of the most delicious sour-cream chocolate cakes, one per month, for an orange sunset scene. How sweet those cakes were!

What are you working on now?

Recently I’ve gotten into stone carving sculpture, finishing up on my 3rd piece now, about a 40” tall marble female nude. [The first two stones are on display in the MAA Art Gallery, Wheaton Mall, Wheaton, MD throughout March.]  Stone carving goes much much more slowly than terra cotta, and the process is totally subtractive unlike terra cotta. Yup, the tools are hammer, chisels, files… The process is very satisfying, almost zen-like. I’m also trying out wood-block relief printing, in addition to my other 2-D works. Oh if there were only 30 hour days!

Gabe’s Back, watercolor and ink on yupo, from the April 2010 All-Media Exhibit.
Gabe’s Back, watercolor and ink on yupo, from the April 2010 All-Media Exhibit.

Come see the March All-Media Exhibit through April 6!

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