Ripley Whiteside – Montreal, Quebec

At the Littoral Zone Walnut ink on paper 89 x 59 in. 2012

At the Littoral Zone
Walnut ink on paper
89 x 59 in.

Briefly describe the work you do.

I make drawings and paintings that scrutinize our conception of nature. Sometimes this involves ‘unnaturalizing’ the natural world and articulating the distance that we put between ourselves and nature. I’m drawn to the fact that nature is something that we are a part of, yet simultaneously we are capable of seeing it as something outside of ourselves. The word has many definitions for many people, and has both potent literal and figurative meanings. Sifting through all these definitions is at the core of my art practice.

For the drawings, I use a brush and ink, including a lot of homemade walnut ink. I like the activity of big, labor-intensive drawing.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I grew up around Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My family comes from the rural south and I feel like that region is present in a lot of what I do, what with all the hot overgrowth. Moreover, my family is full of amateur naturalists, birdwatchers, gardeners, farmers, etc. I always liked to draw. Out of high school, I studied agriculture and worked on a pig farm. That did not stick, but I learned an enormous amount and gained a deep appreciation for the complexity of land management. I have also worked as a cook, cashier, dishwasher, flower deliverer, artist assistant, census-taker (an incredible experience), and dog walker, among other odd and unglamorous jobs. These jobs often took me places I did not expect to be, I think that is pretty valuable.

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

I actually toil away, alone in a room. I try and get to the woods as often as possible. Other than that, an expansive definition of my studio would include frequent long walks and reading.

How to Know the Birds Walnut ink on paper 59 x 72 in.  2013

How to Know the Birds
Walnut ink on paper
59 x 72 in.

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

I am not sure I was anticipating the ins and outs of entrepreneurship that is part of becoming an artist.

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

At this point I work full-time, so weekends are usually my best times to grab a solid day of drawing. Nights, mornings if I can get up for it. Other than that, I like to have areas of a drawing that I can work on for brief moments (textures, etc) that I can hop into without thinking too much about it.

Egg Beach Walnut and India ink on paper 89 x 59 in. 2012

Egg Beach
Walnut and India ink on paper
89 x 59 in.

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

I think my work has changed considerably in the last five years. Going back to school was really helpful for me. Five years ago I wasn’t entirely sure what direction I was headed in, and I decided to focus on drawing and painting. This was in some ways at the expense of other interests, but I’m happy with that decision. Looking closely at the natural world and an interest in detail have been there since all this started.

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

I am lucky in this respect, there are a lot of them. My family and friends have been continual sources of support and encouragement. Within that lot, there are a number of artists who have been important role models. My wife Katarina has an extremely good eye and throwing ideas around with her is extremely valuable. In college, I learned a great deal about drawing and painting by working for Michael Brown, a muralist and sign-painter in Chapel Hill. I am often thinking about conversations with my professors Joan Linder, Adele Henderson, and Reinhard Reitzenstein. And I’ve got a cadre of artists, musicians, and writers that I treasure. It includes John Cage, Vija Celmins, Robert Smithson, John J. Audubon, Frederic Church, Toba Khedoori, Breugel the elder, Durer, Amy Cutler, Charles Burchfield, David Hockney, Roger Tory Peterson, Kent Monkman, Catherine Murphy, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Raymond Pettibon, Rackstraw Downes, Tacita Dean, Phil Ross, The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (not a person per se), Walter T. Foster, Henry Thoreau, John McPhee, William Cronin, Borges, Nick Cave, and Joni Mitchell.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

I’d be a small forward in the NBA. And since we’re in fantasyland, I’d be Kevin Durant. I believe Dave Hickey was correct when he said basketball is “civilized complexity incarnate”.


photoRipley Whiteside was born in North Carolina. He lived in a number of corners of that state prior to graduating with a BFA from UNC-CH in 2008. In 2012, he completed an MFA at SUNY-Buffalo. He lives and works in Montreal.

The Studio

The Studio

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

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