Ridley Howard, who graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in 1999, was the first Traveling Fellow to be selected for a solo show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on view May 11–October 27, 2013. We congratulate Ridley, and thank him for taking the time to answer a few questions.
What was your focus at SMFA?
I focused primarily on painting and drawing when I was there. I did other things along the way…a little sculpture, a little film, a bit of video…but everything I did related to what I was thinking about in painting, and it ultimately won out, though my attitude and ideas about painting changed and developed dramatically during that time.
Were there any faculty members in particular who were influential?
I consistently talked to a lot of faculty, and liked that there were so many varied perspectives. Jane Hudson, Domingo Barreres, David Davidson, Diane O’Donoghue, Magdalena Campos-Pons are a few I remember well. We had great visiting artists who I got an enormous amount from, especially David Humphrey and Keith Mayerson. But I probably worked closest with Gerry Bergstein and definitely Kurt Kauper. Kurt’s relationship to post-pop conceptualism and his love for Western traditions in painting had a huge impact on me. They both were really invested in ideas about image and painting, much of which I still think about.
Can you describe your work today?
Lately, I’ve been working on different types of paintings that all relate to one another; some vague narrative tableaus, portraits, architecture/landscape spaces, and abstractions. I’ve become interested in how they work as a group, or as an experience. There are some clear formal and stylistic relationships between works, but I hope that reflection functions on another level. or several levels.
Where did you travel with the Traveling Fellowship funds? How did the experience inform your work?
I was able to travel pretty extensively in Italy. I hit major cities and museums, and saw most of Piero’s paintings, and many Fra Angelicos. Their work has been really important to me, but seeing it in person is a completely different experience. You are so much more aware of the sensitivity to space and the way visual rhythm and stylization function to reflect reality.
I was also taken with a number of early/mid-20th century Italian painters. Antonio Donghi, Felice Casorati, Gino Severini, to name a few. I love the scope of their work, ranging from classical figuration, to futurism, to Bauhaus-like abstraction. Seeing unexpected connections between different ways of thinking about painting really influenced new directions in my work. It’s also interesting to see how 20th century Italian painting absorbed ideas and style from other places and morphed it into something else. That seems related to the way a lot of painters think today.
Can you share thoughts on your upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston?
I spent a lot of time in the MFA when I was in school, so I’m thrilled to have a show there. It’s nice to have a personal relationship and history with a place and then get to exhibit your own work there. I’m very happy about it. I’ve been working on a new group of paintings that developed out of my recent show at Leo Koenig. So it will probably be a mix of things, both pictures and abstractions, and some that are in between.