CSA co-founder, Camela Guevara, met with fall artist Kristi Ryba to discuss her process, studio life, and why she creates.

CG: When did you first know that you were an artist?

KR: I think I must have always known I was an artist; I just didn’t know what to call it. I made things – houses, furniture and clothing for my dolls, salt clay maps, a southern plantation with it’s own cotton field, holiday decorations, little dioramas, etc.  They were little worlds that I created - and I still do that.  As young as three or four, I took inspiration from 1950s television programs Captain Kangaroo and Ding Dong School for art projects to make at home.  My materials were Ivory Snow Flakes, food coloring, shoe boxes, construction paper, scotch tape, paste, cotton balls, glitter, poster paint, and tins of watercolors.  I pestered my mother for these supplies and as I got older I saved my allowance to buy them.

CG: What is your sketchbook like? 

KR: I don’t keep a sketchbook.  I take notes and jot things down in little blank books but I don’t draw in them. 

CG: What is a typical day in your studio like?

KR: I get into the studio every morning as early as I can.  I knock around in there a bit – check email, do paperwork, etc. and then start to work.  For example, when printmaking or painting, my work begins as I look through my collection of catalogs of Medieval and Renaissance altarpieces and manuscripts and also as I work on the computer by scanning, manipulating, and printing from my collection of family photographs.  Somewhere in all this an idea or a kind of theme takes hold and then I build an image around it, looking for the right combination of photos and a design that tells “the story,” like a predellas on an altarpiece.

CG: Music is an integral part of your stop motion animation videos.  What do you listen to when you are working in your studio?

KR: I love music. I studied piano and flute as a kid, but now I mostly listen to NPR talk radio, podcasts, or nothing.  Many of my early videos were inspired by the sweet silliness and innocence of kid’s music.  My grandchildren were just being born and I was very keen to collect and share this music with them.  I was interested in the disparity between the sweet innocence projected in those songs compared to how things often turn out.  Now I “compose” my own sound tracks on the computer.

CG: You work in such diverse media, how do you decide which would work best for an idea?

KR: All of the ideas are generated from my entire body of work.  They feed off each other, and percolate over time.  For example, three years ago I started thinking about making a painting about my mother and “feasting.”  Some preliminary work has been done in finding images but not much more; or, my most recent video was based on the painting Significant Moments in the Life Of My Mother I and I intend to make videos from paintings II and III, but I have not started on those.  The costumes/interiors, CSA, and general life commitments have diverted my attention so those projects were put on hold.

CG:  Family history and nostalgia play a large part in your work.  What was your family like growing up?

KR: I came from a “good” family, 1950s version.  I was the daughter of a schoolteacher, salesman and eventually Presbyterian minster, moving often and living mostly in small towns in California, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

My family has had the most impact on the work that I do.  I feel intense longing and nostalgia for family, or for the idea or illusion of family.  Both of my parents were only children so we had very few relatives and those that we had all lived in Buffalo, NY, while we lived elsewhere.  My three siblings and myself are spread out in age, two sisters, one 9 years older and the other 6 1/2 years younger, and my mentally disabled brother is 5 years older.  He was always the child with the most significant needs and the reason I started looking so carefully at family photos.  I feel inspired by my parents, most specifically by my mother who managed through it all to do her “job” as she described it, and do it well, which is probably why “keeping house,” the value of woman’s work, and family has become such a significant theme in my work.

CG: How has sewing vintage dresses informed your work? Do you enjoy the process?

KR: The costumes came about when I made a housedress, similar to one of my mother’s, to wear to an opening exhibit of my paintings.  Then I made more and more and needed to document them in a place that looked true to the time period. Sewing vintage costumes just feels right to me and they tell another part of the story.  The digital collage photos came out of that.  It all seems to be integrated; I start small and then just go where it takes me.  Plus, I enjoy doing it and wearing the results.

CG: Whom are you creating for?

KR: I am creating for myself.  It has to be enjoyable and rewarding for me or I wouldn’t be able to do the work and I feel very fortunate that I get to do that. 

CG: If you could travel to one place tomorrow, where would it be? 

KR: I would go see my daughters and grandchildren in Virginia.

CG: What artist, dead or alive, would you like to meet with in person?

KR: Gosh, I admire so many artists I can’t narrow it down.  Mostly I just like being with and around other artists, I feel a kinship with them, a lack of needing to explain things – they just get it – kind of like a family?


Kristi Ryba is one of the Fall Season artists.