Painter Lindsey Ries effortlessly infuses familiar Midwestern scenery with a sublime quality. The collection of landscape paintings currently on display at Gallery 360, feel at once temporal and abstract at the same time. Having grown up in the farm country of rural Wisconsin, she shares with us sentimental moments that speak to the solitude of the countryside, fleeting visions of road trips past and future, as well as the vastness of sky over plains.
360: You mentioned that your Mom is an oil painter, how did growing up with her painting influence you?
LR: My mom had a huge role in my growing up and deciding to be an artist. I remember coming home from school and sitting on the floor in her studio and watching her paint. I learned to paint from watching her and her teaching me, which was an interesting experience because she isn’t traditionally trained. She went to school for drafting and worked as a draftsman for John Deere in Dubuque, IA until my dad got sick when they first got married. So eventually she started doing commissions for area people – paintings of their farms, farm signs, etc. She worked really, really hard and has had gallery representation in Wisconsin for over 10 years now. I think her work ethic rubbed off on me too, that and how she sees the world and paints what she loves.360: How/where were you trained?
LR: My first painting lessons were from my mom. Then I went to UW-La Crosse for my first bachelors degree. I decided there that I wanted to teach and that I wanted to get my MFA but they didn’t have a BFA program yet so I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to get my BFA. That experience in itself was a little crazy, I had never lived somewhere with more than 50,000 people let a lone over 3 million, and I was by myself. I had to learn pretty quickly why I painted what I did and how to defend my choices. BUT the hard work and dedication paid off and I got into MCAD for grad school, which is where I got my MFA in 2012. I’ve always been interested in painting, but I would definitely say my process and the aspects of that process that interest me most have certainly become much richer and refined.
360: Can you speak a little to the abstract qualities of your work?
LR: I think it was when I was in school at SAIC that I realized I didn’t want to do photorealism anymore. Keep in mind, that was what I knew (my mom is a photorealist) so it was scary and exciting and something completely different. I knew color was important to me, and the spaces I painted where important to me, but I had a hard time coming up with how to paint the ideas in my head. I started playing around with the idea of editing, and would leave things out of the painting that I didn’t think were necessary. Spaces kept getting simpler. Eventually my mentor in grad school handed me a brayer. That was the “light bulb” moment. I finally had the tool that would allow me to actually paint the ideas I had. I could still have my paintings be representational, but it was more about building an experience and depicting a familiar space in a new way than capturing a specific moment. I have been using those brayers for almost 5 years.
360: It has been said of landscapes that they reflect a spiritual quality. What led you to create landscapes for this body of paintings?
LR: The idea for the show to be mostly landscapes really came out of discussions with the Gallery 360 owner, Merry. She was familiar with my architectural paintings and suggested doing something new. I thought it would be challenging and exciting to do paintings of places that were so familiar to me and were such an integral part of my childhood, but I’m really happy with how the show turned out. My family was really happy to see the paintings on social media too. I know my mom was excited.360: How would you describe your process?
LR: Well, everything starts with an idea, but it’s more organic and loose. I work from photographs mostly, a lot of the places I paint and what ends up being my main subject matter exist in places that are hours away so doing something plein air wouldn’t work. It isn’t my style anyway. Once I decide what photographs to use, I start drawing on my prepped panels. Panels work best with the brayers, and I prep the surfaces with tinted gesso so I have color to work with from the get go. I try to really enjoy painting and try to bring some happiness into the pieces themselves so I use peach, hot pink, or light blue gesso.
My drawing for the paintings is usually really loose, and gestural, compared to the tightness of the paintings themselves, but it allows for play to happen in the work. I try to leave drawing visible, and have started drawing back into the pieces later with oil pastel. After the drawing is done, I use tape to mask areas off and get the sky and ground done first. Then it’s a matter of blocking in the other areas of the painting, letting happy accidents happen, and adding finishing touches. I have to actively hold myself back from finishing the painting too much and I try to not have a time limit for something I’m working on, although deadlines help. I usually end up working on at least 5 pieces at the same time to keep momentum going, but they all take different amounts of time to be “finished”.
360: Which artists have most influenced you?
LR: Lately I have been looking mostly at Fairfield Porter, Charles Sheeler, Edward Hopper (I love American representational work) but I’ve also always been a fan of Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud. If I need a little pick – me – up, I look at brightly colored work and find great inspiration from artists on Instagram.
360: In your artist’s statement, you mention time, permanence and memory. What is the most important idea or feeling you would like to communicate to your audience?
LR: My work is quiet, contemplative, calm, and – for me – sentimental. I love my audience to spend time with the pieces I create and get lost in them in a way. I hope the spaces feel familiar and remind them of something or bring back a fond memory. I don’t paint places that remind me of anything sad I’ve experienced. I paint these places to create a quiet escape in a way, but a space that is attainable and not too far away.
360: What advice would you give an emerging artist trying to make it in the field today?
LR: I think it is really important to surround yourself with good people and people who don’t all think like you. I have a few artist friends who are amazingly talented, beautiful souls, and incredibly inspiring, BUT I also have amazing people in my life who are not artists at all and their opinions matter to me just as much as the opinions of creatives matter. I think it’s important to have people who will support you and your dreams, but keep you grounded and humble. I have created opportunities for myself and built wonderful professional relationships based on my work ethic and being a good person. I don’t enjoy working with people who treat others poorly or are arrogant. It’s also important to continue working on developing your relationships with professionals – some of these have turned into new friendships for me, but I still respect this people professionally as well. Don’t take advantage of people, and return favors. And I think if an opportunity provides itself to give back to the community in some way, you should do that as well… because you never know when you will need support yourself.