I've been following Ridley Howard's work for a while now and was fortunate enough to meet him in person during his exhibition at Koenig and Clinton, where he generously shared his thoughts and processes, about his gorgeous paintings, with my Moravian students. You may remember a post about Ridley's other half, Holly Coulis, a few months back?The adorable dynamic duo share a studio where all the painting magic happens and how lucky that we get to peek through the window into that world this week. Enjoy!
Where do you live, where is your studio?
I live in Bushwick now, close to Ridgewood. We lived in 'East Williamsburg' at the Montrose stop for over 15 years, but were pushed out of our apartment in October. It's such a common story these days. My studio is in Williamsburg over by the water. Somehow I have managed to hang-on. I've had the space, an old hardware store, since 2001. There are only a few artists left over there, now it's mostly luxury living. My landlord is just a really nice guy, and an artist himself. I think he likes having an artist in the space. The rent has gone up some, but it's still manageable by Brooklyn standards.
Who makes up your day to day world? friends? partners? pets?kids?
Well for a long time it was just me and Holly, my wife, who is also a painter. In our old apartment, sadly we weren't allowed pets.. so with the recent move came a kitten at Christmas. Now there are 3 of us, and the cat has quickly become the center of our universe. It's ridiculous. I do see friends pretty often. Usually for a beer, or a game of some sort on tv. But that isn't a daily thing. And I typically go to openings one night a week.. can't handle much more than that. Holly and I also run a small gallery space, 106 Green, with our friend Mitchell Wright. So I see him pretty often, sometimes for gallery things, sometimes for drinks.
What’s an average studio day like?
It depends on where I am with my work. When I am really busy or into the paintings, I get in before 9 and stay until late. Now it's a bit more relaxed.. so I arrive before 10 and stay until dinner time. I like to keep office hours, even if I'm not painting constantly. Maybe it's my dad's work ethic... I like to go to the office and put in a solid day's work. Most of the time it's 7 days a week, but I am learning to chill out on the weekends.
In the mornings I listen to talk radio of some kind. Could be NPR, or podcasts, or maybe Howard Stern interviews. I usually do a music break for a few hours mid-day. I typically start with slow and melodic, and then go up-tempo after lunch. Sometimes sports radio, if it isn't too meat-headed. I like Jim Rome depending on my mood.. sort of a cross between Letterman and ESPN.
What are you working on now?
Well, I just finished a couple of shows. One in NY this fall, and I have a small work show up now in Miami at Fredric Snitzer Gallery. I am sort of picking myself up now, and thinking about what is next. With every body of work, or group of paintings, it seems like new problems are presented, new issues to resolve or explore. So that's kind of where I am.. reflecting on those shows. Recently I have been making small gouaches, which is really enjoyable. There is something about the medium that suits my work.. it is so flat and matte. It's both graphic and soft, and I love the range of color. I have a few more extensive 'work on paper' projects that I'm thinking about.
What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?
I do a lot of drawing. Bad drawing. I make drawings all of the time anyway.. but if I am struggling with ideas or hesitating for some reason, I get a roll of cheap paper and do large charcoal drawings. Most of the time they are just cartoons.. very simple, like enlarged sketchbook thumbnails. Just to get something down and to consider images in space. I either come to terms with bad ideas.. or something new will present itself. And most of them get thrown away. I do go through periods of looking.. at films, or paintings, or just mining tumblr for random images. It feels like research, and sometimes leads to a spark of some kind.
How do you sustain your creative life? (how do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?)
We've been pretty fortunate to keep a low overhead for years. We were always serious about keeping expenses down, and didn't accumulate extra stuff in our lives. So I've managed to just paint recently, and take some teaching work here and there. Holly teaches part-time in the city. In the early days, I worked for a few artists.. and did typical odd jobs. But it's an interesting question now, as rents and living expenses in Brooklyn continue to skyrocket. I've always thought that the key to being an artist long-term was eliminating unnecessary costs.. but that is becoming impossible to do.
What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?
Well, advice.. this changes weekly, but I think now it seems really important to have a position. With your work. And I don't mean a brand, or creative inflexibility. There is just so much art being made and being seen.. Instagram, tumblr, facebook.. it's endless. I think in the blizzard of art, it is important to feel like you are arguing for something, to find a real connection to what you're doing. Even if nobody else recognizes it or cares. Otherwise you just get sucked into the tides of trend chasing. A lot of young artists struggle with that now, I think.
Also be loyal and good to your friends. I think because of corporate and academic models, young artists think they are climbing a career ladder. It's more like being on a raft at sea. Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down. The same is true for everyone around you.
website/ gallery where can we see your work next?
You can see my last new york show on the Koenig and Clinton site, and other recent work on the Andrehn-Schiptjenko website. I did a show with them in Stockholm last year. I have work up at Frederic Snitzer right now and I am going to be part of a small group show at Alon Segev in Tel Aviv this September.. other than that I am on studio lock-down for a bit. Once again, I feel like I'm at the bottom of the hill looking up. Gotta work through it.