“Art is my life!..”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Bette Ridgeway
Paul Zimmerman: You focus on shape and color in your paintings. Why are that important?
Bette Ridgeway: Color is actually the subject of my paintings. As a colorist (defined by others) the expressiveness of composition and color has been the pursuit of my practice since 1979. I love to experiment and follow my instincts. I begin the work and then allow the paint to direct the flow. My paint is poured on the canvas – no brushes – so being in the “flow” and working with gravity is my medium.
PZ: Do you have any particular goal in mind when your start a new piece?
BR: It is only when I begin a commissioned work that I have something in mind. I’ve discussed in detail the requirements of my client, and we have a certain agreed upon palette in mind. In every other case, I go with the feeling of the day. I will choose several colors and go from there, building layer upon layer until the final painting appears.
PZ: What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
BR: The most challenging part is the setup. It may take an hour to set up the canvas to receive the paint. This involves suspending the canvas on many supports: stools, ladders and the like. It is a true lesson in patience. My process cannot be rushed, and the results are often surprising.
PZ: What is your artistic process? How do you create your paintings?
BR: If you look carefully at my work you can see that the colors are layered on, often in very transparent washes. Sometimes in primary colors such as the one included in a piece entitled “Weaving Life Together.” Most often the colors are thin and watery as I begin and toward the end of the painting, the pigments are more dense. This creates a look that is similar to traditional watercolors. But on canvas and large.
PZ: When do you know that a piece is finished?
BR: The painting “tells” me! Seriously, as I watch the piece unfold there comes a time to resolve it, in whatever way it requires. I know then that the piece is finished. This has come from six decades of painting, and I know that when a painting is overworked it is a failure. I’m very hard on myself, so those “failures,” while a learning experience, are never seen by the public. In the early years of my career these failures happened quite often, now it is less frequent – a tribute to experience.
PZ: Has your practice changed over time?
BR: Yes, as with most creative practices, it has changed and grown over time. We learn from our mistakes, and we learn what the galleries want. If we are successful we work to meet the needs of the moment and evolve as necessary. Most practicing artists, like myself, don’t have the luxury to paint for ourselves, alone.’
PZ: How would you describe yourself as an artist?
BR: There are several words that others use to describe me: disciplined, passionate, hard-working and constantly evolving. I love working with my galleries and my clients. Creating a special painting for a particular space is the greatest! I feel incredibly grateful to be in the creative world. My largest and favorite commission was for a 15 ft by 21 ft painting for the Lobby in the spectacular Boro Tower in Tysons, Virginia. My team and I worked for nine months in a large warehouse to complete it. Installed in January 2019, the project was a tribute to teamwork, documented by a film by Carlo Zanella, which may be viewed on my website: www.RidgewayStudio.com.
PZ: Which artists influenced you?
BR: My mentor, Paul Jenkins, (1923 – 2012) played a major role in my life and my art. When he saw my watercolors in 1979, he was adamant in saying I was a colorist at heart and should be working very large and on canvas. He recommended that I remove subject matter and explore color, space and time. He saw my work for a period of 9 years and finally in 1988 he declared I was ready for a show. In October of 1988 a solo exhibition was held at Fota Gallery in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, that generated enormous interest and sales. The experience set me on a path of painting full time which was completely life changing.
To this day I am grateful for Jenkins’ presence in my life. Many other artists have influenced me including Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler and Georgia O’Keeffe. Pollock showed me that rules are be successfully broken, and more than her art, O’Keeffe’s courage to move to New Mexico and carve her own individual path inspirer me to do the same. I came to New Mexico in 1996 to pursue a full-time career stimulated by the high desert light, and vibrant art community.
PZ: What is art for you?
BR: That is easy. Art is my life!
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensibility?
BR: Fortunately, I maintain a fully-functioning studio and office in my home, so being isolated hasn’t really changed my schedule. There have been times however, when I miss the close physical proximity of my family and friends. I created a painting in April that signified loneliness, so I titled it “Loneliness” and I’m seeing that viewers really connect with it. Another was “The Sound of Solitude” which expressed my feelings perfectly.
Of course, the pandemic has disrupted business, impacting my galleries. I applaud their creative marketing which continues to generate interest and sales. Over many decades we have built a great team of professionals for which I’m very grateful.