Debra Ramsay embraces “beauty” as a core in her work. Throughout her installations and paintings she reflects on the relationship between color, light, time, and place with a minimalist’s impulse and a colorist’s flair. Mara Williams, the curator of “Painting Time”, her recent show at Brattleboro Museum, eloquently describes it as both “reductionist and exuberant.” In this interview for Art Spiel the artist elaborates on her background, ideas, and projects.
AS: Tell me a bit about yourself and what brought you to art.
Debra Ramsay: I’ve had the good fortune to have travelled a lot and have had many different occupations: general contractor, hairdresser and clinical nutritionist, to name a few. I’ve lived on both coasts and on the islands of the West Indies, in large cities and isolated locations where running water and electricity weren’t regular amenities. Some of these times were very challenging.
My instinct is to locate beauty as an antidote to difficulties – something as simple as a clear blue sky can save the day. Art was my way to regain my balance and go forward.
AS: You say that you crave beauty. Much ink has been spilled on the notion of “beauty” and it seems to me that since the 20th century it has been a pretty charged concept in art discourse. What is your take on that?
Debra Ramsay: Beauty means different things to each of us. As US Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward stated, regarding his test for determining pornography, “I know it when I see it.”
AS: you say that your focus is on the beauty and enigma of light and color. What draws you there – Can you elaborate on that?
Debra Ramsay: My primary focus is color. I am also interested in the element of time. In an uncontrolled natural setting light shifts over time and shifting light makes colors appear to change – I’m endlessly fascinated by the interaction of the two.
I’m interested in the artists of the Light and Space movement (Irwin, Turrell, Corse), as well as contemporary artists that were influenced by them, such as Spencer Finch, Tara Donovan and Olafur Eliasson. I also pay homage to Rudolf de Crignis, Robert Ryman, Michelle Stuart, and Agnes Martin for their own study of light and color, and sharing it with us.
AS: What do you mean by “accidental colors” and how does it relate to your art?
Debra Ramsay: Accidental colors are those that find me when I’m out in the world. They catch my attention, cause me to stop what I’m doing or thinking, and make me take note by photographing it. I create bodies of work around colors found in a particular place, as a means to document time and location via color.
AS: You had a recent solo exhibition, “Painting Time”, at Brattleboro Museum (through Sep 24th). Tell me a bit about the genesis, idea, and process behind this body of work.
Debra Ramsay: The artwork in “Painting Time” charts, with the use of color, one year of time passing in a specific landscape. The idea began during my month-long residency at the Golden foundation in April 2013. I was amazed at the dramatic shifts in color in the hills visible from my studio window as spring was unfolding.
The color in “Painting Time” documents each of the four seasons with four horizontal striped paintings, each with 18 colors, laid down in the order I found them on the hiking trail I traversed each season while collecting the colors.
I have reduced the landscape to 18 colored bands. In addition to the four paintings, the 72 colors from the year are painted on as many 8 foot long polyester resin strips. These stripes form a cacophonous bending tumble, stretching out and across the gallery floor.
AS: Mara Williams, the curator of that show wrote that your work is both “reductionist and exuberant”. What are your thoughts there?
Debra Ramsay: The colors in the exhibition are unexpected and spectacular, just as I found them in nature. The landscape that was their source has been reductively translated into a series of straight lines (in the paintings) and a pile of undulating strips (in the installation.)
AS: You mention photography as part of your process. Do you see it as a crucial part of your work process? Can you elaborate on that?
Debra Ramsay: Photography is a collection system for my palette. My sources of color are predominately those that I find out in my world. We do not have the ability to accurately remember colors; therefore photo documentation is essential. I’m photographing color, not form.
AS; What are you working on now?
Debra Ramsay: The most subtle and reduced works I’ve ever made. They are veils of a few layered colors on clear plexiglass. Passive light is a catalyst, as it reflects off the wall and through the panel, illuminating the paint field.
There was an index card on a wall in Rudolf de Criginis’s studio with a handwritten note: “To restore silence is the role of objects.” (From Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, 1951)