AIR Reflections: Rita Schwab

Rita  Schwab has always loved to paint and do things with her hands. She has had a close connection to nature and the earth since childhood. Rita received her masters degree in Fiber Arts from FSU and has been a self-employed studio artist since the 80s. She shows her work locally, nationally and internationally in galleries, museums, juried fine art shows, and art cooperatives.

Rita was born in Heidelberg, Germany and is presently living in Englewood, Florida, and Mt. Tremper, New York. She is highly involved in the Hudson Valley art community, and even has a show in Phonecia at The Arts Upstairs that has run concurrently with her residency at Byrdcliffe.

See all of Rita’s work and happenings at her website: http://earthelement.net

What media do you work with?

I work in mixed media painting, fresco and  natural pigmentation

Do you think your work would have turned out differently if you were in a different environment?

Probably; influence of colors, plants, animals, peace.  Everything around you influences your perception, your mood, your expression.

What is your artistic process?

My work is very process oriented, starting from making my own painting surfaces. I work on wood using recycled hollow core doors for my larger works to keep the painting light weight.  I also construct series of square or round surfaces.

Lately I have been making small tiles from backy board for ‘canvases’. I prime the canvas, then give it a rough texture with joint compound to which the fresco can adhere. I have an idea of a design and do a lay-out of everything that will be part of the painting. Then I mix the fresco, having to work very fast doing the inlay work. While the fresco is still wet I can carve or etch into it.  Once dried but still moist, I begin to apply color with layers of oil washes.

I love the way the fresco absorbs the layers of paint and gives it a rich transparency.  Often I use organic pigments that I have extracted from plants or sand or ground bark to create color. I finish the painting with highlights of enamels and then I seal it with either a matte exterior stone sealer or a high gloss acrylic resin.

Do you make art purely for aesthetic purposes or do you create art to make a statement?

My art is a contemplation of nature versus man-made objects.  I strive to preserve the natural, hoping to create an awareness to the viewer. My art is also quite spiritual and healing.  I intend it to be used subliminal for meditation, reflection, balance and healing.  I often convey a spiritual message hoping to evoke a peace and a harmony that often lacks in people’s lives.

How do you balance your art practice with other obligations in your life, such as your job and family?

My art is my job.  I have been a full-time artist all of my life working in different mediums.  I was a fiber artist for 25 years and made good money. My ‘sacrifice’ was not art, but rather creating what people wanted to buy rather than what I wanted to make.

I have also led many workshops in ‘Natural Dyeing’, ‘Maskmaking’ and ‘Organic Sculpture’.  Presently I am teaching ‘Mixed Media Painting’ and ‘Mandala and Meditation’ in Florida. I was proud to be a studio artist while raising my 3 children.  That was a good choice, as I was working from home and could tend to them as needed.  As they became older, I engaged them in my craft and employed them for smaller jobs.  My daughter was a great sales person for some of my wholesale shows while I was a fiberartist. My art is changing as my needs in life are changing and the society is evolving.  I see us moving towards more community oriented art projects with interactive work of social content.  Spiritual awareness is a large part of that and as I strive to live a holistic life, I hope to find completion in my art and help others to find their joy.

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