Briefly describe the work you do.
I primarily work in printmaking and drawing however, lately, I have been building small structures that have been finding their way into or influencing my works on paper in various ways. My prints and drawings, and these new structures as well, are informed by how we understand the world around us and what affects the ways we perceive, process, and think about it. We see, hear, and otherwise encounter so much and it is all mitigated by everything from the language we speak to digital technology and I am interested in how we come to form the link between the external, physical world and our internal, mental conception of it.
At what point I your life did you want to become an artist?
I am not sure that I ever made a decision to become an artist. I was always drawing, painting, or making something as I was growing up and it was something that my family encouraged and supported. Maybe I just never made a decision to do something different.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I was always curious about how things work or operate. My father and grandfather put tools in my hands as soon as I could hold them and I was always by their sides wanting to help when they worked on the house, cars, or the lawn mower. As a result, I was always taking apart RC cars, radios, telephones, etc. to figure how they did what they did. I tried to fix broken things, some of which only stopped working after I got a hold of them, and if I could not repair them I would try to build something new out of the parts. Rarely was there a success, but the curiosity to understand how things work and to make things was always there and this interest has suck with me.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
Some of the interests driving my work are the variable nature of information and interpretation, the impact of mass media and technology, and how we as humans make sense of things. I feel that print media has a direct relationship to these concerns. At its roots, printmaking came about from a need to efficiently disseminate information resulting in some manner of its standardization. Furthermore, print media or the multiple has a significant impact on our visual culture and relates to other ideas such as consumerism and authenticity.
While I have a deep appreciation and respect for the history and traditions of printmaking, I am interested in exploring the range of variability possible in print media. In my drawing practice I pare down, degrade, and misalign information and I approach making prints in a similar way. I am interested in creating a certain amount of unpredictability by embracing breakdowns and failures in imaging processes, selective inking and wiping, and manipulating the ink on the matrix. Process, for me, is an integral part of the work. Working within systems of interrelated matrices, accepting the unforeseen, and subverting the traditional approach to printing create a range of combinations that I think speak to the nature of how we interpret the world around us.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I would have to agree. While I do get ideas from books and articles, the experience of my surroundings, and sometimes what seems just out-of-nowhere, they are at best starting points. Most of the progress that happens in my work comes from being in the studio and making things. Whether it’s making bad drawings or prints, figuring out to resolve issues with a process, or sometimes just staring at old work, being active in the studio is when the most evolution happens for me and what I am making.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
This would be a huge list, but some of the work I have been looking at most recently is that of Sara Sze, Julie Mehretu, Toba Khedoori, Michael Wesely, and Stephen Talasnik… There is always Piranesi, Tatlin, Atget, and many others.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
I like to read quite a bit, be out in nature, and play music. There is also the occasional binge session of Game of Thrones, House, or the Discovery Channel.
Clifton Riley was born and raised in the panhandle of Texas and earned his BFA from Texas State University-San Marcos in 2006. Riley interned at Flatbed Press in Austin, Texas during his final semester and was hired as an assistant printer upon graduation where he also taught the Beginning Intaglio course. In 2007, Clifton was the Artist-in-Residence at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy and also cofounded Interbirth Books, a small press dedicated to producing handcrafted books of poetry, prose, plays, and prints. Clifton earned his MFA from The University of Tennessee-Knoxville in May 2013. At UTK, he was a Graduate Teaching Associate and instructed in the Foundations Program and Printmaking Department. During the summer of 2012, Riley traveled to Poland where he was an Artist-in-Residence at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Fine Arts, Wrocław. His work has been shown internationally at locations including Ekaterinburg, Russia; Tokyo, Japan; Wrocław, Poland; and El Minia, Egypt and nationally including New York, NY; Boston, MA; Washington D.C., and Austin, TX. He lives and works in Houston, Texas.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.