Practicing an Act of Care: An Interview with Artist Meridith Ridl
By Kathleen Schenck and Meridith Ridl
February 7, 2019
Holland Weekly (HW) was so fortunate to connect via email with Meridith Ridl, an artist and educator living in Saugatuck, Michigan. Here is the interview, lightly edited.
HW: What type of art do you most like to do? What is your choice of medium/materials?
Ridl: I have a background in printmaking/drawing, fibers, and installation work, and am currently working mostly with painting/drawing/collage. I find that I am drawn to a tone more than a particular medium, subject, or style. I’m really drawn to the delicacy and ephemeral nature of pencil (erasable), paper (tear-able), and paint (stain-causing and spill-able). I also think a lot about fragility and space…so even a blank piece of paper makes me pretty thrilled…and then to see the way a line or a drip can change everything…a tiny mark can be lovely or awkward or heartbreaking …these subtle shifts are really engaging to me.
HW: When did you become interested in art? What first drew you to it?
Ridl: For me art emerged quietly, amid the ordinary, where I was allowed to touch things, move things, stare, and notice the textures, tastes, and spaces around me. I was also lucky enough to have people around who let me make my mark. Growing up I spent countless hours making things with my Grandmother Esther after school and had a bed surrounded with tacked up paper so I could wake up in the night and draw on the walls.
HW: On your Artist Profile Sheet, you write that your work suggests impermanence and loss….intimacy and connection. Would it be too personal to ask if you could take us into that moment when you are creating a new work? If you could walk us through your process, either externally (materials, radio on/off, lighting) or internally (mindset, what occurs or doesn’t occur)?
Ridl: Often when I begin, especially if I haven’t been in the studio for a while, I feel excited but sort of scattered. I’ll walk around, stare a lot, look at collections of objects or unfinished pieces. I literally will just move objects around on my shelves and walls, look at a plant. I write a lot of lists. Titles and ideas appear written on walls and scraps of paper in my studio space.
For abstract pieces in particular I’ll often begin with a loose, gestural mark—just giving the paper or canvas an interruption. Then comes this tension between wanting to add layers and more and more or needing to be more restrained. A real back and forth happens…sometimes I just have to let things sit, walk away before I know what to do next.
That moment of thinking, I don’t have a clue what to do next, and then (often later) having a sudden burst of some kind of knowing—for example: I want an irregular blast of blue here! is one of my favorite parts of working. It sounds almost made up—but sometimes (not all the time) there is this moment where my arm just juts out and makes a weird scribble or smoosh of paint in a way that feels almost out of body (I’m almost sheepish/embarrassed saying this). I’ll think, Where did that come from? I’ll get really excited—egotistical even—IT’S WORKING!!!! Often that’s right when I wreck a composition. So in best cases I’ll pause—that waiting and stopping takes some awareness and discipline. Often I’ll miss it.
HW: How do you communicate that the world can be delicate and compassionate? How is that accomplished? Like, wow!
Ridl: Phew! I wish I knew that I could!
I do think that if a person can pause and look thoughtfully, even for a brief moment, he or she is practicing an act of care and quietly protesting dismissiveness. Looking and seeing can reveal all sorts of connections, reveal that relationship matters…I am ever hopeful we can build from there.
I personify a lot of things. I have felt compassion for a whisk alone in a drawer (oh my). I love to notice edges, angles, tilts, gestures, and the spaces between things. These relational elements take on an emotional quality for me. This shows up in my representational work, such as drawings I’ve made of highly rendered snips of thread, as well as in abstractions where ambiguous figures, shapes, or lines lean toward one another, away from one another, cluster, or stand alone.
I’m interested in gestures that might suggest tenderness, humor, gentleness, loneliness…arrangements that might have a wobble, or that aren’t quite right. My work ranges from meditative, delicate, and quiet to more tipsy and quirky. (I have always struggled to reconcile the two…do I need to? Could both be welcome?) I think this may be where intimacy and connection, even compassion comes in—like when we form deep relationships where we accept, even celebrate, contradictions and differences.
Meridith Ridl is an artist (with a BA from the College of Wooster and MFA from the University of Michigan) and an art teacher (at Holland Christian High School). She grew up between New Wilmington, Pennsylvania and Holland, Michigan. She now lives in Saugatuck. Her work is represented by LaFontsee Galleries: www.lafontsee.us. She can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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