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  • Cody Presley

Interview with Rowland Ricketts


Rowland Ricketts, III. I am Ai, We are Ai – warehouse installation, 2012; Indigo dyed ramie; Installation view at the 2012 National Cultural Festival, Tokushima, Japan. Link to Art Practical article here.

What kind of environment helps you focus to create art?

Ideally I like it quiet when trying to work in the studio. I often work with assistants, but I really prefer to be alone so I can think and focus and figure things out. That said, I also believe that my connection to a greater art/artist community through the university and professional organizations to which I belong really help me sustain my ideas and push my work in new and interesting directions, so it’s not all about solitude, but when it comes to actually making the work, I work best when alone.

Would you say your artistic practice involve printmaking or imagery in the multiple in some form?

After 20 years of avoiding specific or literal imagery, I’m starting to develop some work that will be image-based. I’m still not entirely sure where it’s going at this point, but I'm excited about it. I have often worked with multiples. This may come from a very traditional apprenticeship where we learned to make the same thing over and over. Also, much of the work that I do is repetitive in its process, so that may be another reason.

How do you make time to make artwork?

This is a huge challenge. For me, artwork is something that I prioritize. I wouldn’t feel like myself if I weren’t making things, so on some level, it’s not really a choice, it’s just what I do or who I am. There are so many demands on my time, that often I am left ot make my work on weekend or during breaks for school or in the evening or early morning. I just carve out time to do it.

What is a typical week like for you?

Busy! I work on average 60-70 hours a week. I’m in class 6 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and there is always prep time necessary for teaching plus time for meeting with students and grading, etc. As a tenured faculty member I also have many other responsibilities on various committees both in and outside of the area. This means that I also attend multiple meetings each week. Email takes a lot of time as well, so I usually spend a few hours dealing with email either in the early morning or late at night each day. Whenever I’ve got free time I work on my artwork, but this can mean many things. A good example is that this semester I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth with magazine publishers in Europe, China, and Colombia about articles they’re publishing about my work. I also travel quite a lot to present my work, most recently to Toronto for 5 days in October and Peru for 10 days this month. There really is no typical week for me other than I never really stop working, whether it’s on teaching, managing projects, publications, farming, or making my artwork.

How do you schedule your studio time – on a deadline, per project, availability?

More like whack-a-mole! Deadlines come up and help to prioritize what I'm doing in the studio. Recently I’ve had so many deadlines for exhibits, lectures, publications, commissions, etc. that it’s hard to develop new work. This also works well for me, because I think much more clearly when active, so I can work on these other things while letting the ideas for new work develop slowly.

Was there a particular moment when you decided to pursue your media over others?

Yes – I was living in Japan and met folks who were gathering plants from their immediate environment and dyeing with them in a very environmentally conscious way. They then told me about the tradition of indigo in Japan and I was struck by how it combined my interests in working with my hands and with farming. About that same time, on a whim, I visited the folk art museum in Osaka which was a few hours from my house. There was an exhibit of Motohiko Katano’s work up and the moment I saw his work I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

What are the benefits, in your opinion, to working for a university?

I am very fortunate to be a tenure-track faculty member at a Research-1 institution. My university expects first and foremost that I be actively engaged in my research/creative activity. I am evaluated first on this work, then on my teaching, and finally on service to the institution. This means that my own goals of making my artwork, and my university’s expectations of me, are aligned. Teaching at a university also connects me to a greater community of artists and thinkers who really feed and support my work and ideas. I also love working with students as they always bring new perspectives and ideas that keep things exciting and fresh. I also think that having the summers free, even though we’re not paid, is a huge plus. I do the vast majority of my studio work during the summer. Finally, my institution has many internal funding opportunities for the arts and humanities that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. We have access to grants up to $50,000 for individual projects as well as funding to support special equipment needs, etc. These are huge numbers for the arts and have enabled me to do work that I could not have otherwise.