Faith Ringgold

 by Christine Kuan

Jacob's Ladder, painted canvas, print cloth, appliqué, 2006 photo courtesy of the artist
Jacob's Ladder, painted canvas, print cloth, appliqué, 2006
photo courtesy of the artist

CK: How do you decide upon the major themes and subjects in your work?

FR: Recently I was commissioned to create a wedding chuppah on the theme of the Old Testament's Jacob's Ladder. It was great fun and stretched my aesthetic to embrace a process of picture making which included painted canvas, printed cloth and appliqué. However, the themes I have worked on: American People, Black Light, French Collection, Coming to Jones Road, Jazz Stories: Mama Can Sing and Papa Can Blow, come from my experience as a black woman in America. I have to feel a compelling urgency, an absolute passion for my artistic expression.

CK: What is your inspiration?

FR: I am inspired by people who rise above adversity. Like most people, I am also inspired by people who are the best they can be. Although I love a beautiful vase of flowers, a sumptuous landscape or a sunset, I will not be moved to paint one of these without a meaningful personal reference that is also political.

CK: Which artists have had the greatest impact on your works and why?

FR: As a college art student in the late 40s and early 50s, I was taught to copy the great masters of European painting. I found my artistic identity and my personal vision in the 60s by looking at African masks; and my art form through the serial paintings (Migration of the Negro series) of Jacob Lawrence. The powerful geometry of African masks and sculpture that informed Modern art is what I like best about Picasso, Matisse and the other Modern European masters I was taught to copy. It is their exquisite compositions of shape, form, colour and texture that make Picasso, Matisse and Jacob Lawrence's work so wonderful.

CK: Are women artists gaining greater recognition and more opportunities for exhibition today?

FR: Women artists are still women and women's work, for the most part, is still undervalued and underpaid. The same can be said for black artists, and or other artists of colour. Racism and sexism prevails in the arts as well as elsewhere. I think we are more knowledgeable about the inequalities we live with today, but that does not mean that they don't exist. This is a peculiar time we live in. Leadership for change is wanting, but I am a firm believer in the power of freedom of speech, struggle and perseverance in a democratic society. We shall overcome.

CK: From the artist's point of view, what should new art publications aim to accomplish both in print and online?

FR: I'd like to see reviews and interviews of new and experimental art, and artists, both male and female, of a diverse cultural mix. I’d like to see what's happening in the art world globally.

CK: What is one thing the general public does not know about being an established artist?

FR: I have no idea what the general public knows, except to say that many artists live long productive lives and never retire. In fact there is the real possibility that an artist's work will get better with age. I like to say, 'If you can live long enough, all your dreams can come true.'

See biography on Faith Ringgold