Artist residencies provide creative freedom without the distractions of home. They have the added benefit of introducing the artist to new landscapes, cultures, and other artists who share similar interests.
New Zealand Residency
Erin Griffin: Your first residency was at The Virginia Center for Creative Arts in Sweet Briar, Virginia. What were your expectations entering into your stay there?
Mary Curtis Ratcliff: I went to V.C.C.A to explore new ideas that I don’t use in my regular practice. I started by focusing on drawing.
G: Before 1997 the majority of your work was three-dimensional. After your time in Sweet Briar most of your work was two-dimensional. Was V.C.C.A responsible for this shift?
R: Before going to The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts I had been working as a sculptor for 25 years. I was looking for a way of working that would be easy to transport and I was interested in exploring drawing.
G: Do you find that the length of stay and the distance from your home in California determines the medium you use during your residencies?
R: That is certainly a consideration. I anticipate the challenges inherent in traveling and storage and I am especially thoughtful of the possibility of working in a space that might not be as large as my studio at home. I am quite happy to have a limit to my materials because it pushes me to use these materials creatively. It is often because of these restrictions that I produce work that would never have come out of my studio in Berkeley—in fact, that’s one of the reasons I seek residencies.
G: Your most recent residency was a four-week stay at the New Pacific Studio in the countryside of Mt. Bruce, New Zealand. Did the studio require you to collaborate with other artists, to produce work in a particular discipline, or to put on a show at the end of your time there?
R: My personal goal was to explore watercolor with Susan Newbold, another artist in residence at New Pacific. We had met at a residency in France and agreed to go to New Zealand together.
At the end of my stay I presented New Pacific with a 12” x 12” watercolor grid. It is customary to leave a piece of art as a gift to show appreciation for the program.
G: Did you work in any other medium during your stay?
R: I took part in a printmaking class at the Aratoi Museum in Masterton during which I experimented with drypoint etching. I had done some drawings of a herd of cows during the first afternoon we were there and I used these sketches as the basis for my etching.
Later, in our studios at New Pacific, Susan and I created small prints from gelatin plates. I also experimented with various types of graphite pencils and ink brushes and pens to explore the making of marks.
G: Describe for me a typical day at New Pacific.
R: I usually got up at seven. By eight I was out walking with Susan. My camera was always with me so I ended up making about four hundred photographs.
At ten I was in my studio. I would work until five or six depending on what I was getting done and how involved I was in the process. Of course, lunch was in there somewhere. After a few lessons from Susan on how to mix colors, I spent much of my time creating new combinations of colors in my watercolor palette. It was an experiment with the line quality of seven different pens that inspired me to make the grids that would eventually contain the combinations of mixed and unmixed colors I was developing.
Susan and I shared dinner around seven. We talked about how our work was going and often set up times to critique each other. There was rarely a night where I was not in bed reading by eleven.
G: At what level was the local community involved in the residency?
R: A few groups were led on organized tours though our studios. It was similar to an Open Studio in that there’s an invitation to see the artist’s work space, the materials, methods, and the final products. There was also a big potluck which brought together the neighboring farmers. It was great to meet all the people from the surrounding area and share the delicious food and hear stories told by the locals.
G: Do you have a preference for rural residencies?
R: I have been to five residencies, most of which have been in the country and small towns. I never lack for motivation and find I can get a tremendous amount of work done under these circumstances.
G: What would your ideal residency be like?
R: A room of my own and good company!