Yarning with an artist: Richard Stott

by Anna Blanch on February 3, 2012

In the first of a new regular series on Goannatree, which I’m titling Yarning with an Artist and which will feature emerging artists, I bring you an interview with Ric Stott. Revd Ric Stott is a Methodist Minister, Artist and Art Psychotherapist. He has a studio in Sheffield UK where he works for the Methodist Church as a Pioneer Minister. In this role he is exploring ways in which creative arts can enrich peoples lives and communities – Spiritually, emotionally and socially. For more on recent work, Ric has written posts about an environmental installation piece he made for Lent 2011 on his website.

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When did you first realize you were artistic?

Someone else asked me the same question recently and I hadn’t really thought about it before. I studied medicine at university and had always been going down the science route at school and so I assumed that art was a more recent development for me but now that I reflect more deeply on the question I can recall the intense urge to create as a child – that desire from deep in my soul that feels at once uncomfortable, inspirational and energising – and I realised that it’s the same feeling I have now as a 36 year old. As a child these adventures usually ended in frustration as I could never get what was inside me out on the paper in a manner that I found satisfying, now I’m more at peace with the idea that the process will always produce something that falls short of the idealised vision in my soul, but that that imperfection is part of the beauty. So I guess I’ve always been an artist at heart but have taken a detour via medicine and then theology before ending up here.

Could you tell us some more about your work? what are you working on at the moment?

I used to just paint with oils and acrylics but over the last year or so have been working on installations, environmental art and street art. I’m interested in how art can inspire and bring life to communities and so more and more am working outside, particularly in urban areas so the work isn’t mine – it belongs to the community and is a result of my listening and being in that place. It’s important to me to seek beauty and the sacred in ordinary places, places that people would often dismiss and give up on: the day to day concrete spaces of offices and multistory parks and council estates. I’ve been profoundly changed and challenged by making art in these places and have been overwhelmed by the way passers by open up to me and talk about quite intimate aspects of their lives. So the process of art making somehow opens up a space where people can be in a different way – I would call this sacred space. [you can read about Ric’s street art here]

At the moment I am working with a group of artists in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, on a project to explore the stories of the people and communties that make the city and how they relate to the place. We have found a large open plan office and, over a couple of months, will be inviting artists, community groups and passers by in to help build a model of the city as well as recording soemthing of the participants stories. The model will be huge and sometimes I worry about this being one of those creative endeavours you set out on not knowing whether or not it will be an amazing success or a glorious failure! But as the process and journey of creation is more significant than the end point I’m not sure that failure is possible, whatever happens we will have embarked on an adventure with a creative and inclusive community. The project is called ‘Soul of Sheffield’ and you will be able to follow our progress on my blog: www.iaskforwonder.com

Ric Stott

Describe yourself as a sandwich/lunch.

Something that’s messy and a strange mix of different flavours but (I hope) ultimately satisfying.

What is it that inspires you to make art about a particular subject?

Seeing deeply, experiencing deeply and seeking beauty in unexpected places. So often though my laborious schemes and careful plans are overtaken by that moment of inspiration when half asleep in bed or in the shower* and an idea emerges fully formed as if the universe is pregnant with creative potential, with amazing things that will burst into being if we allow ourselves to be receptive to them. I do, however, think that the initial long and winding detour probably puts me in the right receptive mind to find the idea that is more full of life.

*fully awake rather than half asleep

What famous artists have influenced you, and how?

Maybe these are obvious choices, but there’s no point in being willfully obscure to try and look clever!:

Mark Rothko: For showing me how art can open up new ways of seeing and being. Sitting in front of one of his paintings in Tate Modern for half an hour was a genuinely life changing experience.

Antony Gormley: For the way he explores the relationship between our bodies and the space we inhabit. For me coming from a Christian perspective this has lots of powerful resonances with the idea of incarnation and a God who is present in physical reality rather than floating around as an ethereal, unearthly spirit.

Gerhard Richter: Whose recent exhibition in London has made me fall in love with painting again and inspired me to make 2012 the year when I get my paintbrushes out and see how deep I can go in exploring the role of artist as contemplative.

What about an artist/creative person I may not have come across but that you think the world needs to know about

Keri Smith, whose book ‘How to be an Explorer of the World‘ really opened my eyes to the potential for art to engage with the world around us and enrich our communities in ways that are whimsical, surprising and bring a different way of being in mundane places. She inspired me to open my eyes and see something wonderful right in front of me wherever I might find myself.

What do you do for fun/other interests besides make art?

Have fun with my two children. enjoy good films and eating out. meditation and yoga.

And I love going on holiday somewhere warm and peaceful – walking down a sandy beach into a warm sea is such an exquisite experience but can’t be done in Sheffield.

What inspires you to create and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?

I can’t escape the desire to create – it wells up like a fire that can’t be kept in. For me that creative energy comes from a deep place of silence and contemplation.

When things get tough in the studio the pattern is usually the same: procrastination; distraction with mundane tasks; frustration and annoyance sometimes leading to despair and wondering why I bother at all. In the end I need to sit quietly and wait for that still small voice that says ‘Go create’ and then I have to just put my pencil on the paper or fingers into the clay and see what happens – most of the time it’s dross, but once that’s out of the way more exciting things start to happen. I often have to tell myself to trust the process of creation and stop fretting when things seem to be going nowhere.

How have you handled the business side of being an artist?

Very badly. I do feel a sense of both elation and dread when someone offers to buy one of my pieces – thrilled that they like my work, trepidation at having to put a price on it. I am, however, very fortunate to be paid by the Methodist Church to be creative and to explore what creative spirituality means for individuals and how it can enrich communities so I’m not dependent on making a living solely through producing art (which I’m not sure I’d be able to do).

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I can barely envisage 10 weeks time let alone 10 years!

But if I was working with a vibrant creative community, making art and inspiring others to do the same as well as enriching lives as an art therapist and a spiritual director then I would see that as time well spent.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out

Make sure you have some other strings to your bow so you don’t have to rely on it for your income, then go for it – put the paint brush in the paint, put it on the canvas and see what happens. Don’t worry about producing dross or feeling uninspired or hopeless – that’s bound to happen – keep going even if you’re just scribbling on scraps of paper, once you enter into the creative process something exciting or interesting will happen sooner or later if you take the risk and stick with it.

What/Where is the most inspiring place in the world for you?

So many I cant choose: The cathedral in Santiago de Compestela after I’d walked the Pilgrimage, the grubby pavement on the estate where I have been doing street art, a cliff top overlooking the Arctic Ocean as the midnight sun touched the horizon.

I love places of transition. So, for example, Estuaries and salt flats that are constantly changing with the tides are inspiring to me – the transition between land/river and ocean. the interface between different spaces is the place of creation.

And I could spend forever gazing out over vast expanses – the view from a hot air balloon over the Sahara desert, countless miles of nothing until the Atlantic, brought me to tears. One day I hope to stand on the edge of the Pacific with half a world of Ocean in front of me – I would be overwhelmed.

Ric Stott

Thanks so much Ric. I’m really glad to have a chance to chat with you and share your work with the blogosphere!

All image are used with Ric Stott’s permission. You can find more of Ric’s work on his website: www.iaskforwonder.com

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This artist spotlight interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with emerging artists. It is about celebrating artists and the work they are creating and sharing. If you have a suggestion for an artist to be featured in this series, send an email to enquiries@goannatree.com

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