Thursday Spotlight: Masha Ryskin

Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in the Soviet Union, and was educated in the spirit of Socialist Realism. It was a very strict classical training in painting and drawing, which was to help in our required depictions of happy workers and our wonderful life in the Soviet Union as we were “building Communism”. Somehow, the “idyllic Soviet life” in general and happy workers in particular proved very elusive to me, and I constantly got into trouble for not painting the right thing. I have to admit, however, that this kind of schooling really taught me how to draw and paint from observation, and I’m pretty sure that my love of white and subtle shadows comes from years of drawing plaster casts. Then, after moving to this country, I studied printmaking at RISD and painting/mixed media/fibers/printmaking at University of Michigan. That is when I started to overcome my training and began to understand what it was that I really wanted to do.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

Somehow, the work of Marc Chagall is very dear to me. I still remember looking at reproductions of his paintings as a kid (his work was not really shown in museums), looking at his distorted chairs and thinking “you can do that??” But it’s really everything, from Javanese shadow puppets to Japanese textiles to Rembrandt to contemporary artists to music to literature to everything else. I remember, for example, studying the importance of silence in traditional Japanese music, a concept that became very influential in my work.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

By looking at things and by making things. By noticing really small and seemingly unimportant details. A shadow that is barely noticeable but transforms the shape of an object, stains, fragments. A thread that can be confused with its shadow or a drawn line. I’m very interested in fragments making up an integrate whole. But it might also be something I read or a piece of music I listen to, or an idea I read about. Then, once I’m working, it’s easy to get new ideas.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.

I have worked with tea and coffee for a very long time. I still use them, coffee more than tea (though I question whether the instant stuff I use is really coffee – have you every smelled it in
concentrated form?). I like the idea of using materials that are not specifically “art materials” when I can get away with it. But if it’s something that needs to be archival, I use paint, waterbased crayons, graphite, mylar, intaglio processes on silk tissue paper. I use a lot of collage (bits of my own drawings, prints, digitally printed scans). I like working either very very small or very very large.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative? What is the best part of being creative?

I don’t think you can chose to be creative or that it’s something you can turn on and off, just as I don’t think that being creative is necessarily a function of being an artist. You can be an artist and be the most uncreative person in the world, on the other hand, you can be of a profession that is not usually associated with creativity and be a very creative individual. I think that the best part of being creative is that life is never boring.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?
It’s difficult to give a general advice without being cliché, every situation and every person is different. For me, continuing to work and believing in what I do has always been very important, as well as being generally engaged in the outside world. Showing my work is also something that keeps me energized, so constantly applying for various opportunities is definitely a very necessary evil.

Masha’s website  
Masha’s Blog
Masha’s Facebook Page

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