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RICK SILBERBERG: ILLUMINATING THE DARKNESS

Rick Silberberg is a talented and inventive artist http://ricksilberberg.com/ who is based in a Connecticut town between New York and Boston.  His paintings are bright and mellow and his sculptural works are made from found objects.  What inspires him?  Read on and find out …

MICHAEL: Hey Rick, I'm intrigued by your work.  It's not completely abstract yet not fully figurative.  Are you straddling the fence?

RICK: Hi Michael, I suppose I am straddling though that sounds a little dangerous or indecisive.  I'd rather say I was using all means at my disposal to create my work without limiting myself to one or the other.  But I am almost always abstract in the way I start a painting.  The world has such an abundance of form and energy that it becomes difficult to keep from suggesting things that are “real.” I like the duality so I suppose it's purposeful rather than accidental. Maybe that's what you found intriguing?

MICHAEL: Yes. Also, your colors are melon-like and seem to have a glow.  Your paintings seem refreshing and come from a place of light rather than darkness.  Is that the case?

RICK: I agree. They do come from a light place, but as with a beam, they illuminate the darkness which is also the subject of many pieces.  For example, see the painting titled "The Battle of Lepanto." It refers to one of the fiercest naval confrontations ever fought in the Mediterranean. The western Holy League and the Ottoman Empire faced off in 1571. The west won in this case and the course of history was set for many centuries to come.  Interestingly, this was part of a series that began on a black ground and developed in a way that drew upon references (at least in my mind as I worked) to darker emotions and anxieties. My wife calls them my “depression paintings” which makes me laugh. My use of color is instinctive as I have no theories or rules to follow. I do love a good honeydew melon though. 

MICHAEL: When you are painting, what kind of mental state are you in?  What are you thinking?  Is the process more emotional, intellectual or spiritual?  Do you need total silence?  Music?  TV?  What's the process like?

TICK TOCK TICK TOCK TICK TOCK …

RICK: Thinking of what I'm thinking when I paint required some thought. Thus, the delay in responding. My process, if it can be called that, involves a scattered attention to many things at once during a period when distractions are at a minimum. I like to listen to music or even talk on the phone. Total silence is unsettling. I procrastinate a lot too! If I can really get going, the momentum builds and I can get into a mental place where the forces, spiritual/physical as well as emotional/intellectual come together and I can accomplish something with a complexity that satisfies the mind as well as the eye.  When I start a painting, it helps to begin where the last one ended or depart from a point suggested by that painting. I like each piece to be different, but also the same, like a family. I work on a painting until I see that even one more stroke is unnecessary though I suppose the process could go on forever.  My studio is so full of supplies that I may never be able to convert them all to art. 

MICHAEL: I also love your sculptural works.  They're like 3D collages with "found" materials.  What's the inspiration behind them?

RICK: I'm glad that you like them. They're fun to make too. I have always done some work in 3D, but I've only recently begun to show them. I don't know if you've seen any others than the one piece that's on my web site. The great thing about art is that anything can be a source material depending on context and juxtaposition. I think found, recycled or re-imagined objects bring their own voice as well as history to whatever they're added to. For instance, I have a piece that was made from my son’s dresser drawer. I like the way the wood has gotten the chance to look tree-like again.  

MICHAEL: Do you feel that New York is the center of the art world?  Couldn't you create the work that you're doing now in Los Angeles or Chicago or DC for instance?

RICK: No, I really don't think the art world has one center at this time, but it helps an artist in his or her career to be where collectors, galleries and museums can easily see your work and you have the chance to meet and get to know people who make the choices. I moved from New York right after getting my M.A. way back in 1973.  Since then, except for a few brief periods, I've lived where I am now, pretty far from the "maddening" art crowd. But I still enjoy a trip to the city and keeping in contact with friends and colleagues there.

MICHAEL: Where are you exactly?  How do your environment and current surroundings inspire you?  Or do they inspire you?

RICK: Isn't it strange communicating with someone and not knowing from where or to where our words are going?

MICHAEL: No.  I’m listening...

RICK: I'm in Ivoryton, Connecticut which is about half way between Boston and New York.  It's a small town that's part of another small town on the Connecticut River named Essex. It's where during the War of 1812, the British burned some 28 ships of the American fleet.  This year marked the 200th anniversary of that raid.  There is a yearly re-enactment with parades, costumes, muskets and grog!  Ivoryton was a center of piano manufacturing up until pretty recently.  A flood in 1982 washed all of the lumber from the factory away and through town. Many homes have porches made from that wood.  The building has been purchased and is now a warehouse for salvaged architectural elements destined for reuse.  Maybe this has inspired me in my use of recycled materials in my sculptures. I know being close to nature living in a pretty unspoiled environment has had a definite influence on my imagery. Of course, traveling away to exotic places around the globe has its influence too. Back to art though. This area was also home to the American Impressionists centered in Old Lyme which is just across the river. This remains a strong tradition here. Essex was the home of John Chamberlain until he was forced to leave when his neighbors got upset over the "junk" in his yard.  Abstract art is not completely accepted still. There are exceptions.  Sol Lewitt who was born in New Britain lived in the nearby town of Chester for many years up until his death. 

MICHAEL: So many people are suspicious of contemporary art.  Many think it's high-minded, bullcrap.  What do you think it'll take to change that?  Or does it need changing?

RICK: That's so true, but many people are suspicious of doctors, lawyers, clergy, teachers, bankers and even the government.  The emperor's new clothes phenomenon may apply when it comes to art.  Sometimes the public points that out.  There is a lot of bullcrap out there.  Artists, in an attempt to find how far out they can go and still be making art, often alienate the very audience they cater to. If they can create what can't be understood then it has a value that only those in the "know" who stand to benefit "understand" and can appreciate.   Art critics often wag the dog, the artist in this case, and the result is art made to fit the mold cast by the gallery-museum- collector continuum.  Of course, there’s a lot of great art that goes unrecognized or undervalued.  There's no clear route to the top and no logic in whose work gets there.

MICHAEL: And so given that, what do you do?  Do you just get up every day and paint because that's what you do?  I mean, the artist's life may not be the old stereotypical struggle, but still it's not easy, No?  Especially now, when it's tough to get people to buy anything, let alone art.

RICK: What a question.  Perfect timing. I guess that's what I do. But since I don't really need to sell at this point in my life, that pressure is not on me.   I do want to show my work.  And I do.  I'm now focusing on or trying to focus on new places. I really can't complain at all.  Especially in this world!  

MICHAEL: So many artists tell me that they don't feel pressure to sell their work.  Many artists have storage rooms full of unsold work.  Is unsold and often unseen work truly art?  Doesn't art really need to be seen to fulfill its main function?

RICK: Yes, unseen and unsold art is still art. Like the tree in the forest that falls without being heard, it’s still a loud tree, it's still art. Whether it's good  or bad, art is another question. So is the level of success achieved by the artist. On the other hand, sometimes just being in a gallery and seen is enough to automatically make something art.  See the urinal of R. Mutt. Is the Rothko that just sold at auction for $56 million less art if it's tucked away in someone's vault and only seen when its owner happens to be counting his money?  In this case, maybe.  I agree with you though that art needs to be seen and by as many people as possible. I know I want to show my work.  That's why I have my web site and why I do interviews.  The easy part is making art.  The hard part is often all the rest. 

MICHAEL: I think a lot of artists use their creative process as an excuse for not paying more attention to the business side of their art.  What do you think?

RICK: I think you're right. Some do. But some artists are just not as comfortable with the business of art, which is self-promotion, as they are with creating art. That's not the same as using the creative process as an excuse.  There’s certainly nothing stopping an artist from handling both.  I've had to. Handling your career certainly benefits from a creative approach. Don't you think so? 

MICHAEL: Indeed. If you could change anything about the art world, what would it be? Are there any completely unnecessary practices that you think hinder artists or the public?

RICK: The role of big money, the cronyism, the dumbing down of popular culture, the cult of the art star, the lack of  adequate public funding for the arts, the need to consume art and for artists to consume supplies, the  transformation of the museum from a quiet, contemplative sanctum to a mall and gift shop with crowds way too large to really see the art, the endless stream of new artists pumped out by the art schools every semester, each ready (or not)  to join the competition, the mistreatment of artists by galleries, I'll stop here.   I don't want to sound negative, but you asked.  There are many more positive things to say about the art world that if said would more than balance these observations.

MICHAEL: Well Rick, let's end on a high note. What are those positive things about the art world?  What's the point of art anyway?  Why should anyone care about art?  It's not curing cancer or ending homelessness.

RICK: I thought you'd ask the question you're asking. Thanks for the chance to answer. Art is so embedded in everything we see and do, in what we wear, drive and live in. The art world, which includes all the institutions big and small and all individuals big and small, reflects and anticipates where we are as a society minute by minute back through recorded and pre-recorded time. That's why we can amazingly look back and see how civilization grew and evolved. Art provides the tangible proof in pictures, sculptures, buildings and words. Our museums allow us such easy access to our past, our present and our future. They along with thousands of galleries inspire us and challenge our concepts. Art provides anyone who makes it with instant gratification and a chance to express something or make a point or to even go wild if they choose.  And now, we have the web which contains everything!  Art may not be curing cancer but it has been proven to aid in healing and is a recognized therapeutic discipline.  I can't imagine how drab this world would be without even the worst art. And I believe that everyone cares about art to a degree and all have the ability to appreciate it. That’s why the museums are so crowded! 

MICHAEL: Thanks Rick. Cool chat.

RICK: Thanks again Michael for the interview opportunity and the interesting questions.

Check out Rick Silberberg at http://ricksilberberg.com/.   



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