Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Liberating the Rebel - Interview with Martha Rich

After a brief hiatus for most of January, I thought I'd start off this new year with an interview with one of my favorite artists. I discovered the work of Martha Rich a few years ago through the 20 x 200 affordable art website. Immediately, I fell in love with her two prints of a painted piece of cake with some ambiguous yet suggestive text bubbles floating around the main image giving a hint at the title - Chocolate Electric and Stay Icy (and now a third entitled, Yes Please). Something about the bright color and sugary absurdity of those pieces appealed to me. When I did a little cyber-stalking to find more of her paintings, I was delighted with her overall aesthetic and color sense. I knew I wanted to be surrounded by her work in my home.
Martha happens to live and work in my hometown area of Philadelphia. I visit South Jersey often, so this past fall, I made a stop at Martha's studio to see her latest pieces and ask her some questions.
Martha's artist statement is unusual, not the run-of-the-mill autobiography. It is fractured and seemingly senseless at first glance. It reads like a disjointed novel or haiku, all the while offering a deeply personal and poetic glimpse into the life of an artist with an inability to describe the grasp of the creative process. "My art is driven by the stored moments not by logic. It is my own language and sometimes I don't understand it." Every artist faces so much pressure with the start of a new masterpiece. She likens this moment with an existence inside the corporate cubicle. "There's something terrifying about a blank page." (Working in a cubicle terrifies me too.) Be prepared to enjoy the insights on some colorful and fun paintings!

-How long have you been painting? When did you know that you wanted to be an artist and pursue art? 
I have been painting since going to Art Center College of Design (in Pasadena), and I have always been doing artsy stuff since I was a kid, but I didn't know I could be an "artist" until the Clayton Brothers told me I could.
-I was initially drawn to your paintings because of your sense of color (and because I like food imagery). There also appears to be an underlying commentary on femininity. Would you agree with that? Can you explain more about where this comes from?  
I don't intentionally make a commentary on femininity, but maybe I do because I happen to be female and therefore that is what I know and therefore it comes out in my paintings.

-Why are you drawn to painting food and desserts?  
You have to ask?! It started when I found a 70s cookbook about cakes at an estate sale.
- What is your work about, and how do you describe your art overall? It definitely appears to have a sense of humor.
I think the majority of my work is about the absurdity of life and trying to deal with it. I do not know how anyone can go through life without a sense of humor. I would crumble if I couldn't laugh at it. I went through a Frederick's of Hollywood obsession a while ago. I wish they would do catalogs like that again.
-Can you briefly describe your artistic progression over the years? How did you get to where you are now?  
I had a creative semi-hippie mom who showed me how to macrame, batik, develop photos, tumble rocks, quilt, make glasses from old beer bottles and more. During the elementary years, I wrote and illustrated my own magazine called "Ye Olde Continental Times." In high school, I was an art major. Then I went to college where they squashed it out of me; spent the next 15 years trying to be a normal-suburban-picket-fence- pantyhose-marriage-kids-corporate-job person. Then divorce led me to taking a class with the Clayton Brothers at Art Center College of Design and that was the changing moment in my life. I have been an "real" artist ever since. Not so brief.
-What’s a Freedom Wig?  
It was a wig style in a Frederick's of Hollywood catalog- kind of a big fluffy afro. I think I latched onto wigs from those ads and the fact that my mother went through cancer when I was a kid and had to wear a wig. I figured that out later. I am out of the wig stage for now.
-In your studio, I saw a series made from the New York Times Magazine. What is the story behind those? 
I hate a blank white piece of paper. It is so hard to put down that first mark. I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times and had a whole pile of the magazines and papers waiting for recycling. One day while working, I had leftover paint on my palette. I hate wasting paint, so I picked up one of the magazines and started painting over the text. I liked it, so I kept doing it and it became my sketchbook. There is no pressure to be perfect in my sketchbooks; a crisp white page calls for perfection. I need a place to fail and make a mess and this is where I do it.
-Aside from the New York Times project – what other projects have you taken on? I started making 100 pieces of art for $100 so people could still by original art and not have to be a "one percenter" to do it.

-You mentioned that people have to watch what they say around you or it might end up in one of your pieces. Can you elaborate? 
I love to eavesdrop which is much easier in a city like Philadelphia versus Los Angeles. I carry a book around and write the crazy stuff I hear then when I make my mind map paintings, I go through the book for the best phrases and curate them into the paintings.
-Who or what is your work influenced by? Do you have any particular favorite artists? My work is influenced by life.  
My favorite artists fluctuate, but I would say Margaret Kilgallen is one who is consistently in my mind. Also Georganne Deen. She is amazing. But I am more influenced by my friends and studio mates than big famous  arteests. Esther Pearl Watson and Mark Todd, The Clayton Brothers, Jason Holley, Aaron Smith, Matt Curtius, Gina Triplett, Keith Warren Greiman are more of my favorites.

-What is your favorite piece of all time that you’ve created and why? 
The Loretta Lynn portrait I did for an independent study with Christian Clayton in art school. It was motorized and was a turning point for me artistically.
-Are there any outside activities that have influenced or become part of your work at all? 
I don't think so. Art is my outside activity. Inside and outside.

-Do you listen to music (if so, what?) or do you have any particular rituals as part of working in your studio? 
I do not listen to music. I listen to the Real Housewives of Anything. I like to listen to talking that I don't really have to pay attention to. I usually have to clean before I start a painting. Organize my brains.
-Where do you like to go for inspiration or find sanctuary? (A favorite museum, your own work space, or out in the woods, a wig shop, a bra store, etc.)  
I like to go to museums. Any museum will do. But it is not a really a "thing" I do a lot. I go through museums like the wind. I am not a lingerer. I get art fatigue really quickly. I think I am more inspired by just living. I don't often look for sanctuary because I think my life is already a sanctuary. Well maybe I find sanctuary in my friends and family or at a really good restaurant.
- What is your artistic future? Do you have any specific projects or exhibitions coming up in 2013? 
I have no idea what my artistic future is except I hope I am still doing art in the future. I have a show in April 2013 with Keith Warren Greiman at Space 1026 Gallery in Philly. That is what I am focused on right now. I was also in the annual Post-It show at Giant Robot this past December in LA. I actually got to go there this year! I was looking forward to that a bunch.

-Where can we find more of your work? 
Or just come to the studio!


  1. I love Martha's work! Thanks for putting words to great images...

  2. Martha: this work is exquisite and yummy. Congrats. Adding to our file of future collaborators.