Briefly describe the work you do.
I use memory as a resource to explore and reveal my ideas about grief, longing, home, family, motherhood and gender roles. Inspired by vintage photographs from my birth family and vintage objects I collect, I make paintings, photographs and prints, vintage style clothing and stop motion videos.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I was born in California but during my childhood, and my father’s second career as a Presbyterian minister, we moved around Ohio and Southwestern Pennsylvania. Gradually I moved south, first to Virginia and then South Carolina where I now live. After an early marriage, divorce and remarriage I went back to school as a non-traditional student and concentrated on studying art.
While I have always made things and wanted to be an artist, first I married and had children because I wanted to do that too. It is the combination of these two things that is at the center of what I do and make. My life has been rooted in family issues and household concerns. These experiences are what shape my art making as I call into question embedded attitudes, opinions and beliefs regarding the value of woman’s work, the messages and myths regarding family, as well as how longing and nostalgia influence our memory.
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.”
My studio has been at my home for the past 18 years and currently is a building in my back yard. Depending on what I am working on – painting, sewing, printmaking, or video my studio practice is pretty close to the traditional notion of an artist alone in the studio. I begin my day by getting into the studio every morning as early as I can. I exercise, eat and then go to the studio, knock around a bit – check email, do paperwork, etc. and then start to work.
When printmaking or painting, my work begins as I look through my collection of catalogs of Medieval and Renaissance altarpieces and manuscripts and also as I work on the computer by scanning, manipulating and printing from my collection of family photographs. Somewhere in all this an idea or a kind of theme takes hold and then I build an image around it, looking for the right combination of photos and a design that tells “the story,” like a predellas on an altarpiece
Process is an important aspect of my work – when painting I use traditional grounds or vellum, egg tempera and gold leaf. Process is also an important part of printmaking as well as the sewing and video work that I do.
In the digital photo collages I begin by sewing costumes. I research patterns, shop for materials and sew for several weeks, and then friends photograph me in front of a green screen. Using Photoshop and vintage 1940s advertising images or the photographs I take of the interiors of 1940s and 50s vintage metal dollhouses, I insert the images of myself performing traditional household tasks.
The stop-motion video work can take months or even years to complete as I tend to work on these over time breaking and beginning again as time permits. I build miniature landscapes and interior models, sew tiny dolls clothes, collect dolls, furniture and objects and also create the audio component I use in the films.
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?
Initially I envisioned myself as a teaching artist, which I did a little of earlier in my career. However, at this time in my career and life I am primarily engaged in studio practice or household activities. Feeling the sense of time passing I am content with this and to just do the work, “finish my story”, so to speak. Also, in the beginning of my career I thought of myself as a painter/printmaker and never envisioned myself using technology or making videos as I do now.
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?
Being a morning person, the best time of day for me to work is anytime from 5:00 AM up to about 5:00 or 6:00 PM. This schedule has always been somewhat controlled by other people’s expectations of my time, expectations like caring for children and their activities, preparing dinner, shopping, gardening and laundry, etc. While my schedule is more flexible now old habits die-hard.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I was already working from family photos and telling stories within an altarpiece like format, when in 2009 I took a class in Medieval and Renaissance manuscript painting, a combination studio and art history course, and following that a residency at The McColl Center in Charlotte, NC. This combination of new sources of information and materials along with the advantages of limited distractions during a 3-month long residency, initiated a unique direction in my work.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
My family has had the most impact on the work that I do as I have always had an intense longing and nostalgia for family or the idea of family. Both of my parents were only children. We had very few relatives and those we had all lived in Buffalo, NY and we lived elsewhere. Even now my own children live far enough away that I seldom see them or my grandchildren. My siblings are spread out in age, two sisters are 9 years older and 6 1/2 years younger and my mentally handicapped brother is 5 years older. He was always the child with the most significant needs and the reason I started looking so carefully at family photos. I feel inspired by my parents, most specifically by my mother who managed through it all to do her “job” as she described it, and do it well, which is probably why “keeping house,” the value of woman’s work and family has become such a significant theme in my work.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I’m not sure what I would do if I was not an artist but it would probably be in some type of service industry like event planning or something related to gardening and landscape. I think that would be creative and allow me the flexibility to move around and keep from sitting at a desk and/or standing or sitting in one place.
Kristi Ryba paints, sews, gardens, photographs, cooks and makes prints and videos in her studio and home in Charleston, South Carolina. Trained as a printmaker and painter Ryba graduated Magna Cum Laude from the College of Charleston in 1988. Ryba received her MFA from Vermont College in 2006, and has participated in residencies at Vermont Studio School in Johnson, Vermont, Studio Camnitzer in Valdotavvo, Lucca, Italy and The McColl Center in Charlotte, NC. In 2012 Ryba was selected as the SC Arts Commission Alternate Visual Arts Fellow. Exhibiting since 1990 Ryba’s. Her video animations debuted at Silo in New York City in 2004 and 2006, Contemporary Charleston in 2004 and have been included in film festivals across the country. More recently Ryba’s work has been exhibited at ArtFields 2014, 701 Contemporary Center for Art and Columbia College in Columbia, SC; Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth, OH; Waterworks Visual Arts Center in NC; The City Gallery at Waterfront Park, Charleston, SC; Sumter Gallery of Art, in Sumer, SC; and Dialect Design in Charlotte, NC. Currently Ryba’s work is included in the Fall Share of the inaugural year of Charleston Supported Art, a platform to connect emerging and established artists and collectors. This fall her work will be exhibited at Gertrude Herbert Institute Of Art in Augusta, GA. In 2016 her work will be included in the exhibit The Red Suitcase, one of 11 artists, whose work will all fit snugly into a red suitcase that becomes the exhibit and travels to various exhibit locations.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.