Gary and I meet at Spark gallery on Friday afternoon. Gary is sitting the gallery during our juried photography exhibit, FOCUS.
May I ask your age?
How long have you lived in Denver?
I moved here from New Orleans in 2010.
What brought you here?
There are numerous reasons. I had always been aware of Denver as a very nice city in a beautiful location. My middle daughter, Adrienne, had joined the army and was stationed in the Springs. She eventually relocated to Denver. My oldest daughter, Erica, moved here from New Orleans after Katrina in 2005 to be near Adrienne. My youngest daughter, Hilary decided to keep New Orleans as her home.
And finally, in 2010, our home in New Orleans was bought by a nearby Veteran's hospital that wanted to expand. The settlement was favorable, and here we are.
Do you miss New Orleans?
No. I miss the food.
Please tell us a bit about your earlier years as an artist.
Always I was making things. In elementary school I was drawing, assembling, and carving. I cannot say that I grew up in a family that encouraged art. There was some encouragement in school, maybe in the earlier grades. I really did not excel at art, I just sort of gravitated to it. I always seemed to be thinking in three dimensions. I just had this idea in my head that I wanted to be an artist.
What was your exposure to art, to other artists?
There really was none, or very little, until I went to college. I studied art at the University of New Orleans where they had a great art department. I studied welding, metal casting, printmaking - all kinds of art. It was art all the time, as much as I could get it. While in New Orleans I became a part of a studio with four or five other sculptors. The studio was in an old bakery. In our group the artists worked in a variety of ways, some abstract, some figurative. It was a very creative atmosphere and I was exposed to many ways of working. There was a gallery in town that showed our work. Maybe I was with this group, in this studio, for five or six years.
What was your work like then?
Mostly sculpture created from found objects. I also became intrigued with certain primary forms, such as the sphere and the busted sphere. I would cast spherical forms from metal. Spheres and circular forms became important. They still are, although now I am working on something different.
How did you support yourself while you were working in the studio?
To earn money I would work construction. One day I was asked to build a custom set of kitchen cabinets. I had the tools, and I was developing a sense of craft. This set of cabinets led to a business making cabinets, which I had for 30 years. During Katrina our shop was flooded. It took some arduous time to regroup, and we did.
Were your art making efforts affected by the cabinet business?
Not so much the cabinets. While at the university I met Becky, and Becky soon became my wife. There are now three grown daughters. While raising a family my production of art by necessity was limited.
Has moving to Denver changed your art?
I am not certain. Denver is a good city for art. Before I moved here, when I had the opportunity to visit, I would regularly visit galleries and the museum. There are now a number of art districts and there seems to be many activities involving art. Now I have a house with a yard and a garage in the back where I can work. There is the time and the space to work, and for that I am truly grateful.
Can you please describe your artistic process?
Now the sculpture is assembled, though not from found objects. I am less interested in that now, though I certainly appreciate the incorporation of found objects in the work of other artists. My work does not involve carving in the traditional sense. I use power tools such as grinders and saws. I source natural and rare woods from local distributors and the work is assembled with hardware. Sometimes the hardware is concealed and sometimes it is celebrated as, for example, when large bolt heads are integral.
I work initially from sketches. From these I move on to maquettes made from Styrofoam, or other materials that are light, inexpensive, and easy to manipulate. The real work of creating art occurs as I am building the actual sculpture. I may work alongside the maquette, changing it and then changing the actual sculpture. It is easier to move the work along, and I can make the mistakes on the smaller, more forgiving scale.
I use color, though it is subsidiary to the form. Color can bring out the form, enhance it. I like to walk around the work and assess it as a three dimensional form. Making a sculpture can be like wrestling.
Do you have any expectations of the viewer?
I want people who look at my sculptures to have fun. When a person looks at my work and explains it to another, I know they are engaged with the art. I know the work has reached out to them.
Any final thoughts?
I feel like a "newbie". It is early on, and there is this feeling of much work to do. I am enjoying my experience and I appreciate my good fortune to have the wherewithal and freedom to build art that people can enjoy.
Interview with Elaine Ricklin, April 6th, 2015
Elaine and I meet in an atrium of Cherry Creek Mall. There is a sitting and coffee area just opposite the entry to Nordstrom's.
May I ask your age?
Age is just a number, and mine is unlisted.
When did you move to Denver?
I moved to Denver from Staten Island, New York in 1971. Richard and I had a growing family and we lived in a very small house. We were young and we wanted an adventure. We knew of Colorado from magazines and from personal references from people we respected. It was such a pleasant shock to arrive here and see the endless blue sky.
Can you please tell us about your early years?
I was raised on a farm in Brooklyn. True! My parents had a kosher milk business and we had dairy cows. The smell of manure is not foreign to me. The farm was in the southern part of Brooklyn, which at that time was on the edge of the developed city. I went to a Yeshiva on Eastern Parkway through the eighth grade. It took me an hour to get to school on a school bus. Classes were in religious studies in the morning and a regular public school curriculum in the afternoon. Afterwards I enrolled in a public high school.
When did art, and art making become a part of your life?
There was really no art in my life as a child. My parents knew nothing of art and I cannot recall any pictures on the walls. I do recall some very small sculpture-like art that my grandparents had...
There was no art in the Yeshiva and the art in high school was a joke. The teacher would stand on a podium and lecture about color and art principles. There was no art making. Music seemed to be valued in the school.
A revelation occurred when I was 21. I was visiting my friend Gail in Upstate New York. There were these paintings on the walls of her house and I was mesmerized. I asked her who painted them and she said, "I did". I was awestruck! I fell in love with these paintings and I wanted to make some too. Gail drove me to Poughkeepsie and we bought many painting supplies. Gail worked from photographs and I thought that's how I would begin as well.
So that was it?
Well yes, sort of... I became a closet painter. With babies it was not so simple to paint. I would store my supplies until there was time to paint. I had gone to Brooklyn College and graduated with a degree in Education. I wanted to teach. When we lived on Staten Island I taught part-time. So there really wasn't all that much time to paint.
What kinds of things did you paint?
Mostly I painted small still life, or I worked from photographs. One summer I took a painting class at the Brooklyn Museum taught by the Social Realist painter Isaac Soyer. The focus of that class was portraiture where we worked from live models. I began to paint portraits in oils and watercolors. There was some commissioned work.
You and I have been members of Spark gallery for well over 25 years. I do not think of you as primarily a painter.
When I moved to Denver I was so hungry to learn about art. I took a painting class with Maria Lowenstein. She taught the classes in a church and provided day care so I was free to paint uninterrupted. I was taking so many classes someone suggested I should go to school and study formally. It took me seven years to get my Fine Arts degree at Metro. While there I learned printmaking and photography and I fell in love with those media. It was all so sensual. The smell of ink on metal, the feel etching metal plates in nitric acid, grinding on a lithography stone and the darkroom photography with its solutions and baths. I loved it.
I really became immersed in printmaking and photography. I taught many styles of printmaking at the Arvada Center, the Curtis Art Center, Arapahoe Community College, Art-reach and other places as well. This was my life. This is my life.
Did you exhibit your work?
My showing was consistent and yet sporadic. I would enter various art exhibitions. In 1983 I became a member of Spark Gallery. At Spark I showed mostly my prints and photographs. Lately I have been returning to painting. I've missed the tactile qualities of painting. I am working in oils and acrylics. Sometimes the subjects of the paintings are landscapes that have personal significance. I'm still working in photography and I expect that I will return to printmaking again soon.
Do you have any expectations of the viewer?
It would be fantastic if people would spend more than three seconds looking at the art! I am always finding new things in my photography and my other work. I wish people would take the time to make those discoveries. It can be frustrating.
Any final thoughts?
Everybody has a creative side. This may not become manifest in painting, or sculpture, or the other media we think of as art. Perhaps this creativity is expressed in cooking, or sewing, or any number of activities. I hope everyone can find a way to tap into their innate creative force.