"My painting and drawing are as personal as my handwriting. I am not following or copying anybody at this point in my career. I am on my own and happily so."Ricker Winsor was born in Evanston, Illinois on February 20, 1945. He studied American and Russian literature at Brown University and painting and drawing at Rhode Island School of Design where he received an MFA. His new book, The Painting of My Life, was just released by Mud Flat Press. His first book is, Pakuwon City, Letters from the East, and his essays and short fiction have been published at Reflets du Temps in France and at Empty Mirror Books. Ricker is an artist and writer living in Bali, Indonesia.
"Friends would say I am talented and very productive. I don't waste time. And they'd say I am a risk taker, someone who is not afraid to change, to try new things. The ones who know me well say I have a good sense of humor. I have more than twenty years of experience teaching studio art at the Rhode Island School of Design as a graduate student, at Charles Wright Academy as art department chair for eight years, at the American International School of Dhaka, Bangladesh, at the International School of Port of Spain in Trinidad, at the Cita Hati Sekolah in Surabaya, and now at the Bali Center for Artistic Creativity in Ubud.
"As a teacher, I try to be a good role model for those trying to deepen their relationship with art. To me, art and the artist's path are spiritual things like prayer. They offer up everything we are to that which we do not know. And we are producing something beautiful that was not present in the world before. That is a benefit to everyone.
"I am American living in Denpasar, Bali. I love Indonesia. Despite whatever complaints we have, the sense of safety, the politeness of the people and the good way they get along together is more important to me than anything. Also, Indonesian people do many things very, very well including cooking some of the best food on earth. It is a wonderful country with a very positive future. As an artist, the color, the landscape, the buildings all affect me deeply.
"When I was five, we moved to a suburb just 20 minutes by train from the center of Manhattan. I grew up in a beautiful town called Pelham Manor, is a place of big trees and fine houses, the homes of people who make a lot of money in the city. It is a historic place in American history, as well. People there are successful and smart. They are high achievers for the most part and very serious about what they do, whether it is painting a picture or playing golf or making money. We all had access to everything that New York City has to offer and that is a very great deal.
"My father was an important television producer, the creator of the form known as 'soap operas.' His three shows ran on CBS TV five days a week for 20 years. That gave us a lot of privileges. As I mentioned elsewhere, I come from an artistic family and was surrounded by fine art and music my whole life, as well as excellence in interior decorating and all the decorative arts. I was a frequent visitor to the New York City museums from an early age. It was a special upbringing but not without problems. I was fortunate to go to a fine boarding school for four years and then to an Ivy League college and later to Rhode Island School of Design, the best art school in the world.
"My mother was sick with cancer for many years when I was growing up. It started when I was age six. This had a lot of influence over my development and made me more self-reliant emotionally, which has been important for my ability to stay on the artist's path. I am comfortable with my time alone. An artist needs to be a loner to some extent.
"Because of what I shared about my father's success, it is also worth mentioning that he lost his business and was left with very little by the time I was about 24 years old. But I had already rejected the wealth, the affluence of my youth, and had struck out on my own, buying an old house that needed rebuilding and doing that far away from New York, up in the hills of New Hampshire. I started teaching at that point and working toward my artist life in a serious way. A few years later, I went to graduate school and then spent a year in France. Afterward, I continued studying painting and painting outdoors.
"When I was 25, I started practicing meditation and it continues. I lived near an important Hindu Ashram in New York for nine years and studied bhakti yoga seriously there. I am a practicing Catholic and have spent time in monasteries. I experience great peace when I am working on my painting, no matter how difficult it is at any point.
"I quit smoking and drinking in 1979 and, since then, there have not been very many silly or embarrassing moments. I think I was more fun back in those days but I get a lot more done now.
"My wife is Chinese Indonesian, Kwee, Liang Yien and we were married in 2009. Our daughter, Grace, is twenty-two years old. Liang Yien raised our daughter with her mother on her own from the time Grace was two. I did not have anything to do with that but I like having her in my life, getting to know her slowly. She is a pretty girl and interested in fashion and makeup.
"In 2009, I was in Surabaya, East Java for a year, teaching. That got me started and it was not easy. I had only a motorbike to ride and a very poor house the school provided. I did not know a word of Indonesian and, like most Americans, I knew nothing about Indonesia. So it was tough. And then my neighbors showed up — younger guys with families who knew English — and they helped me with everything. That made all the difference and now I am a part of all that.
"My mother was an excellent painter and so was my sister. My father was a writer and a very good cartoonist. So, I come from an artistic family. I guess it is in the blood. I started in photography, then worked in theater and film, and finally came to drawing and painting at the age of thirty in graduate school, where I received an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. Painting to me is the most personal and the most direct art form. Music is also like that and painting and music are closely related.
"At the age of sixteen, I began visiting the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, looking at paintings. Not long after that, I started doing some abstract paintings — big shapes and colors. I became friends with a famous painter, Herman Cherry, one of the New York School abstract painters and he encouraged me. My graduate school teacher, Lane Smith, became my good friend, and my wife and I became part of his family for the next four years. We painted outdoors together and I learned so much from him and another teacher friend, Russell Germond.
"I started painting quite late but so did Van Gogh. It was very difficult to maintain belief in myself. Other artists are not always supportive. Rather, they are resentful and competitive sometimes. All of this makes progress difficult. I tell my students and believe it myself that persistence always wins the race. When I started drawing at the Rhode Island School of Design, I was very lucky to have teachers who saw something in me that was unique and special despite my lack of finesse or skill at that time. That good start and my belief in myself despite all the odds have carried me through. There is nothing easy about the artist's life, the artist's path. I have said that the price you pay is poverty and loneliness. It is a big price but finally worth it.
"I how to make the reed pens, similar to the ones Van Gogh used in some of his drawings. I use these and also palette knives and brushes. Those are my basic tools. Drawing is at the core of painting. I spent endless time in life-drawing classes in art school and outside of school, drawing the figure from real models. At my studio in Vermont, some artist friends would come over once a week during the winter and someone would sit for a portrait. I spent years as a plein air painter like Monet or Van Gogh and did a lot of good work that way. I knew it would be a long process but I never gave up. Now I am finding the reward for that persistence and, believe me, it has been worth it.
"I use acid free archival paper for my drawings. My paintings are done on heavy weight cotton duck, primed with several coats of gesso. I stretch the canvases myself. I also use handmade paper, primed with gesso, for some oil pastel drawings, and pre-primed canvas board for others. It is important to pay attention to the preparation so that the work will last far into the future with no problems.
"In my process of painting, I do not start with a fixed idea. I make a mess on the canvas and let my imagination work to show me the way. This is very exciting and I am getting a much more personal and expressive result by trusting my instinct and my imagination.
"After all these years, I am now painting fully on my own, beyond my influences, knowing how to paint in my own way, freely using my imagination and all the background I have acquired over the years. I want my paintings to reach a larger audience, to have important shows here in Indonesian and in other countries, too.
"In 2000, I received a fellowship to the Fundacion Valparaiso in Mojacar for a month of painting there, all expenses paid. I have been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. My paintings and drawings have been featured in many group and solo shows in the United States, Bangladesh, France and Trinidad. I have been a member of the Alliance for the Visual Arts in Lebanon, New Hampshire, the Oxbow Gallery in Northampton, Massachusetts and many others. I don't submit works to juried shows because of the entrance fees they charge.
"I am a part of a long line of artists that started with the poet Walt Whitman, then the beat generation, and jazz music and abstract painting. I also am connected to impressionism, both in Europe and in the United States. Although I am American, I see myself as a global citizen. I have spent a good portion of my life abroad and have an international view of things.
"My painting and drawing are as personal as my handwriting. I am not following or copying anybody at this point in my career. I am on my own and happily so.
"I consider myself 'a pure painter' and a 'painter of feeling.' What I mean is that I believe in the fundamental truth of putting paint on canvas with ordinary tools and no gimmicks. Instead of pushing the boundaries of what painting is, I am content to work from the inside and allow my individual sense of color and form to evolve and deepen into new realms.
"The physical aspect of painting is very attractive to me — the simplicity of the process and the direct quality of it. It is as individual as a person's hand writing, or should be, but it takes time to get to that place. Color is the prime interest for me and finding a good structure for that color is the biggest challenge. I worked for years with the landscape as the subject with periods of non-objective abstraction. Now the city and the cities of my imagination are providing an interesting structure for the color. I do not know where it is going from here, into total non-objective abstraction or some other direction that preserves nature and the figure to some extent.
"I have an advantage here because my work is universal and not attached to a particular culture. My work is informed by the world of dreams, the collective unconscious we all share. Because of that, my paintings communicate, or have the potential to communicate, to a very large global audience.
"Novica's cofounder, Roberto Milk, has a father by the same name, someone I know as Bob Milk. He and I went to boarding school together in Massachusetts for four years. In our senior year, once I got over spending so much time playing sports, we became friends and I am proud to know him. He told me about Novica once he learned we were living in Bali.
"I am very excited to be part of a global concern helping artisans and artists, and one that has the support of National Geographic, one of the most respected institutions in the world. I hope Novica can sell my paintings all over this earth. That is my ambition for our association."