2007 Interview

Erin Griffin: You have quite a diverse career, ranging from video and photography to sculpture and collage. Is there a common theme or prevalent focus in your work?

Mary Curtis Ratcliff: I began taking pictures when I was very young and looking back on this vast archive it is clear to me that I have always been inspired by natural phenomena. When I was on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, I absorbed many teachings that influence my work to this day. In particular you can see the overwhelming number of circles and ellipses that find their way into my work. The Lakota Souix teach us the importance of that shape. The symbol of the 4 directions, fire circles, tepees, sweat lodges and the sun dance circle all remind us that everything is connected.

G: Has your involvement with the Native American, Labor and Goddess Movements made your work overtly political?

R: I don’t think of my work as political, but I do think I communicate our connection to the Earth. Much of my work provides windows onto natural forms like trees and water so that my audience may take a step back and contemplate the patterns of life.

G: You have made a transition from sculpture to mixed media works on paper. Why?

R: With sculpture you have 3 dimensions to work with, when working on paper I must attempt to create the 3rd dimension. This is a challenge that allows me to explore various way of communicating that 3rd dimension. It has also allowed me to utilize the 4th dimension of time, in that my current work is a culmination of photographs captured throughout my childhood and into my adult life. So in a sense my career has come full circle in that I am working within a medium I have been preparing for since I was 7 years old.

G: You mentioned the challenge of creating multiple dimensions within this medium, are there other challenges that you face?

R: When I would begin to form an idea for a sculpture it was very clear what the end result would be. I would sketch out basic plans for the piece, but for the most part I knew exactly how it would turn out because I had those 3 constant dimensions. With works on paper I am always surprised by the final piece because it is difficult to visualize all the subtle layers and washes that eventually become the final work.

G: Your series “Light Play” is visually different from your other works on paper, was there another method used for these pieces?

R: Thomas Kinkade is known as the “Painter of Light™” (laughs). In that series I experimented by painting with electric lights. The images were captured by focusing on particularly dramatic color contrasts of neon and darkness by night and manipulating the camera lens and speed. I then reworked areas of the printed images by hand with pastel.

G: Do you anticipate using this method in the future?

R: I had a lot of fun with this series but my new work will be more like the “Arborescence” series. “Light Play” with its vivid colors and dramatic contrasts did not lend itself to additional layers or subtle blending of media. The images stood on their own. In my current work I have returned to more subtle palettes and build up contrasts and layers within the mixed media.

G: How do you maintain your energy and creative drive?

R: Art is a meditation. In this way energy is not used, only transformed. Communicating this serene, thoughtful process with others is what inspires me to exhibit in galleries and host open studios. When collectors chose to purchase a piece they chose to live in contemplation of that process. This tells me that I have expressed my meditation clearly.

-November, 2007