| Interviewed by Anna Buckner
| June, 2017
(AB) How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
(RR) I am an atypical native-Kansan painter who spends too much time listening to NPR and reading translated Dutch novels on the El.
(RR) In Chicago the “El” or “L” is our public train system. Technically it means “Elevated Train”, although ironically a significant portion of it is underground. Most Chicagoans (myself definitely included) spend an inordinate about of time on the El.
(AB) You describe a tension between history, memory, and nostalgia in your statement. What exactly is this tension?
(RR) Dang, that’s a tough, very thesis-committee-esque question. The tension is a feeling that I think is pretty common to people like me, whose familial histories are absent, especially when parts of those histories have intentionally been withheld. It’s the notion that our culture, in my case American (or more specifically Midwestern, perhaps) culture tells us that it is healthy to be nostalgic. It is healthy to miss our parents’ and grandparents’ America. The tension manifests when one is forced to confront the problems that one’s family inevitably faced as they lived out these untold stories in the America that we are allegedly nostalgic for. The tension, I guess, is the knowledge that we are supposed to miss something that we know must have been problematic, without ever knowing exactly what those problems were. Trying to find these stories can be like knowing that a play is happening, but when you pull the velvet curtain aside there is a brick wall between you and the actors. Here we find the nature of history itself. The voices floating over the wall entice you with story scraps, but the brick wall won’t budge. I know that is a long answer, I your question basically embodies the monstrosity that is my MFA thesis. Svetlana Boym clarified this all with an impressive level of clarity when she discussed the concept of “Reflective Nostalgia” in her brilliant book The Future of Nostalgia.
(AB) Ok first of all I sincerely apologize for taking you back to your thesis-committee – probably something you don’t feel overly nostalgic for, am I right? I’m glad I asked though, because your answer is incredibly relevant right now. America really wasn’t great for a lot of people. Nostalgia can be dangerous. Why oil paint?
(RR) I use oil exclusively for a couple of reasons. First, I am incredibly asinine about being able to make subtle and highly-controlled shifts in color, and I have found that acrylic and gouache just dry too darn fast to allow me to embrace that particular desire. I have a whole idea about color theory being the same as the linear equations that I used in high school algebra, and I doubt that I could balance my tonal equations in any other medium. Second, I have found that limiting the number of variables within my art practice allows me to explore a couple of chosen variables with much greater focus. Art is like a pinball machine, the ball hits harder bouncing around an inch-wide corridor than it does in an empty gymnasium.
(AB) I love the specificity of that. It makes sense when tackling something as personal as memory. I think we can only really approach universality through specificity. Do you feel a connection to narrative historical oil paintings in your work?
(RR) I feel like to generalize the things that I find in the photographs sort of betrays the realities that they reflect, and I truly would hate to do that. I definitely feel connected to traditional history paintings. I spent a good chunk of undergrad and grad school having the good fortune to wander around some of Europe’s most storied museums. While the tales told by a lot of those paintings may seem repetitive and formulaic, each painter would add in these minuscule gems (things like what types of foods might be on a background table, or the colors on the edge of a particular patch of cloth) that show how richly they observed their worlds. I could go on for hours about this stuff. Like the Old Masters, I try to reward viewers for looking closer by hiding the good stuff in plain sight.
AB) What’s your favorite city?
(RR) Another tough one! I’m a total travel nut, but I am completely enamored with the tiny town of Todi, Italy. I studied there as a Freshman in college, and have visited twice since. I even keep a snow globe of the piazza in my studio next to my pet cactus. I love it because its like the Gods of civilization built a maze into a layer cake and then stuck the cake right on the edge of every major development in Western history. It got attacked by the Visigoths and built up by the Romans and knocked sideways by the Black Plague and lectured at by the Popes. Plus, they have their very own Pink Floyd cover band. Oh, and the views aren’t too shabby.
(AB) Speaking of cake, what is your favorite studio snack?
(RR) Is tea considered a snack? If not. then its either Dots or Mike-and-Ike’s. I’m an awful vegan. I know.
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