“My mother got cancer when I was sixteen and died when I was 22. Don't feel sorry. Bad things happen.”
Rather than listing off her accomplishments or waxing poetic about her stylistic choices, this is how Martha Rich begins her artist statement. Amid these 20 words, one can recognize what they see in the creator’s work: dialogue. Whether literally or symbolically, Martha’s artwork starts a conversation about the spectrum of life, from the difficult to the seemingly trivial. Such conversations could go on forever, bursting forth from the canvas as they withstand the test of time.
Since her work is “informed by moments quietly noticed and not by what is shouted,” one will likely encounter a sense of empowerment when viewing Martha’s pieces. That’s because the artist cultivates what may initially appear insignificant until she coaxes out the significance that was there from the start. We just weren’t able to see it until now. Those who observe the artist’s work can grow to understand that details matter — which can be quite intimidating (as our world is made up of countless tiny details). Yet, with Martha guiding us, viewers instead feel liberated knowing that nothing is off limits when it comes to creativity. Everything — even the outwardly absurd — is fair game.
To continue the conversations started by her work, Martha generously agreed to start a dialogue with us.
Based on your biography, it sounds like feminism played a key role in your start as an artist. Does it feel that way to you? If so, can you talk more about the connection between the two, based on your experiences?
I would say that, as a child, my mother played the key role in my start as an artist. Our basement was set up as an arts and crafts room. She taught me and my brother to macramé, batik, how to develop film and print photos, tumble rocks, make sun prints, to spin wool and to dye it with natural dyes. We made drinking glasses from old beer bottles, she taught us how to make stained glass art, we did weavings with straws, made zoetropes and flip books and so much more. She gave me the courage to make art. She was a woman of the ‘60s and ‘70s trying to find her way during the women’s liberation movement. Watching her come to terms with what it meant to be a women had a big impact on me — so yes, feminism played a key role.
During your talk with Danielle Krysa at L.A.’s Skylight Books, I remember you mentioning that you went back to school later on in life. Was there a defining moment that inspired you to do so? Were you at all anxious or afraid – how did you deal with these feelings?
There were two defining moments. The first was divorce. For some reason, I willingly fell into the traditional role of wife and supporter of my husband’s path, putting my needs on the back burner. I did all the things I was “supposed” to do and he left me anyway. So I was like, fuck it, from now on I am going to do what I want to do, so I started taking night classes in illustration at the ArtCenter College of Design. That brings me to the second moment. My teachers Rob and Christian Clayton told me one night in class that I should quit my job and go to art school full-time. I did and here I am now.
As I recall, your inner critic is called Chad. When Chad is acting out, what do you do to quiet him down?
I’ve banished Chad. I am tired of dudes telling me what to do.
In your interview with Robert Newman, you describe your work as “humorous and absurd and affordable.” Why is affordability key?
When I think of the blue chip artists whose work sells for millions, it makes me crazy. I suspect most people who can afford that are buying the art for an investment and for prestige. It’s unreachable for the majority of people. I love the idea of original art in the homes of everyday people, who buy the art because it makes them feel something, not because it is a prestigious investment. Rebellion against the 1%. Maybe I am selling myself short in not charging more for my work, but I truly love knowing the people who buy my art really appreciate it and want it.
What does humor do for you as an artist? Where do you source your comedic material?
Humor is how I survive. The source is life.
“Love Ya, Mean It” Cat (1st image) – http://cargocollective.com/martharich/100-for-100-2013
Are there any themes or subjects you love to play around with? Can you tell us why each one matters to you as an artist?
I don’t consciously set out to play around with a theme. I have never been able to see themes until way after I have made something. It usually reflects what is happening in my life at the time. Right now, I am feeling very contrary, so that is showing itself.
What is one lesson your mom taught you that serves you to this day?
Act like you know.
I love your artist statement. Just one of several parts that stood out to me: “Sometimes I am afraid my art is corporate and bland due to fifteen years spent in cubicles.” How do you combat this way of thinking? For those who are currently in a cubicle state of mind, how would you recommend they free themselves?
I combat it with time. I have now been an artist longer than I was a cubicle-ist! The only way to combat that thinking is to make more and more and more and more until you force the corporate out of you. Get weirder and weirder and weirder.
“I am giving myself permission to make useless art.” Why is this important to you?
This goes along with what I said above in the question about being corporate. If you are always trying really hard to make something be something useful, it’ll probably be dull.
I imagine that many (including myself) can relate to your need to please others. Yet, we rarely admit this. What made you want to include these feelings in your statement? How do you deal with this need?
It is funny — I should probably update my artist statement. Getting older really helps with lessening the people-pleasing part of life. Yes, I still do it, but it is a conscious choice. I’m not willy-nilly pleasing people all over the place. I don’t people-please to my detriment much anymore. It’s exhausting. People still like you even went you aren’t trying to please.
What are you currently working on and excited about?
I am currently working on a book pitch of my own. I am most excited about the fact that I am about to become a first-time homeowner!!!
Do you have any advice for the women out there who dream of becoming an artist?
Start small. Make something small. Then make something a little bigger. Keep making things. Don’t stop. After a while, if you still want to keep going, take a class. If you like the class, take another. Or if you can’t take a class, keep making. Meet other people who are making things. Go to gallery openings. Go to lectures. Go to any artsy thing you can. It doesn’t happen overnight. You will fail. You will succeed. You will make ugly stuff. You will make pretty stuff, but don’t let those things get to you. Keep going.
When Anna Gragert isn't trying to create a groundbreaking bio for herself, she's working as an associate editor at HelloGiggles. She has also collaborated with creative outlets such as Catapult, CheapPOP, My Modern Met, The Mary Sue, This. Magazine, and more. A color psychic once told her that her aura is indigo.