Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A talk with Carin Riley

Molly Stevens: You’re the springy-est chicken that I know, Carin, but in the eyes of the art world, you’re no spring chicken. What do you think about making art after the age of 22?

Carin Riley: Well I started drawing when I was 2. It was just a part of my life. By the time I was 22, I had had some very strong teachers. And I knew that I had a long way to go. Also, there weren’t any women as examples that I could latch on to. There weren’t any women that I could say “Oh that’s me” or that I could emulate. And then, in the 80s, I saw that the art world commodified people in a way that wasn’t going to work for me. So, it has been a winding road. But, I’ve never stopped drawing. It’s always been a language for me, a language that I accept.

MS: Once you said to me that you always thought you’d make your best art at 80.

CR: Yeah. Definitely.

MS: Tell me about that.

CR: Well, sometimes I’d meet a collector who would try and push me into the public eye. But I knew it wasn’t my time. I would just say, “don’t worry, it’ll happen by the time I’m 80.” And I just figured that that was the way it was going to be. Because I was looking for something I wasn’t finding at the time. But I had the hope that I’d find it by 80. I found it sooner.

MS: What makes the time ripe for an artist?

CR: That’s determined somewhere else. A force comes into your life that gives you clarity. I knew in 1992 what I was looking for, but it didn’t come around until this year!

MS: What were you looking for?

CR: I was looking for some kind of strength. I was looking for a Belinda-type force. I drew Belinda in 1992 but I hadn’t met her in person yet. And when I met her last year, she knocked me off my feet. That was it. I found what I was looking for and it was easy. Painting became tangible to me.

MS: So who’s Belinda?

CR: Belinda was – before my father died – the person who came into our lives and really took care of the family. My father was very ill and when she arrived she was very powerful. Her word was her bond. And she would say that, ”my word is my bond.” And she made everything much lighter for us.

MS: So, technically, she’s a home health aide?

CR: Yes, and she was much more than that in the sense that she just took my father to the next level in life. She helped him transition out of life. And she was very confident doing that.

MS: And immediately you wanted to put her into your drawing and painting?

CR: I wanted to be her!

MS: Would you call her a muse?

CR: She was bigger than a muse. She was like a universal force. I’ve never met anyone stronger than Belinda. That’s the truth. Physically or mentally.

(Willem de Kooning, 1950-1952, Oil on Canvas, 6'3" x 58")

MS: Nurses have been a popular subject in literature and art. For example, Richard Prince’s nurses. But Prince’s nurses are pulpy, sexy, flimsy women. And Belinda is definitely not.

CR: No she’s the antidote to Prince’s nurses. She’s an aide and very proud of it. And there was so much honesty and hard work. She had worked since she was a young girl and put her daughters through school. There was nothing fictional about her. So I liked that.

MS: Yeah, Prince’s nurses are fictional.

CR: I mean, I suppose there are nurses out there that are like his nurses. But I wanted something much deeper…There’s one more parallel and that’s de Kooning’s Woman, I. When I was in school they said, “she’s our Madonna, our Mona Lisa.” And I thought that was so unfair to women. I loved the painting but it was so angry.

MS: It was de Kooning who was angry. I’d say it was even hate.

CR: Yeah, so why would that be “our Mona Lisa.” And plus she’s composed of advertising parts. Her mouth comes out of an ad. Belinda has a soft mouth. She’s strong, more compassionate. I was looking to re-visit Woman, I in a way that was not so angry. Hence the liver. With Belinda, the liver is anger and I took the anger out. It’s next to her. When I finished, I thought Belinda is my Woman, I.

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