TO LIVE AND LET LIVE
A Conversation with Street Artist RIPO
Ripo by Lori Zimmer
I had the pleasure of meeting Ripo, an American artist living in Barcelona, through the No New Enemies network, a European non-profit artists organization that I write for. Coincidentally, Ripo’s twin worked at Patrick McMullan for years. As the art world is a small place, we’ve had many other coincidental connections.
Ripo’s street art is as intelligent as the artist himself, often fusing typography and sarcasm on dilapidated buildings all over the world. His typography evokes a vintage 1950′s America and is juxtaposed with modern social commentary. He has had a huge presence in street art over the last few years, and has recently enjoyed solo exhibitions as well–closing a show on Brussels at the end of April. I’ve been a fan of his work for some time–especially a series he did by painting on mirrors throughout Barcelona, and was very excited to find out more about his inspirations. He has been working diligently on perfecting his in-studio work, I look forward to seeing the direction he moves in.
Lori Zimmer: You are originally from New York, but have been living in Barcelona for the past few years. What drew you to Spain? How is painting on the streets of Barcelona differ from your hometown?
Ripo: A country full of paranoid nosy neighbors with guns under their pillows just doesn’t make me feel very safe or relaxed. People in Spain aren’t perfect either, and there are plenty of cabrones as well, but the quality of life seems to make people happier, and when people are happy they tend to live and let live.
LZ: Much of your work has a very vintage Americana feel–referencing the birth of advertising and the tradition of billboard painting. How do you make this recognized style your own?
R: I’m not only focusing on style, but also on what messages or stories I communicate. Sarcasm and humor are a good way of talking about something more serious. And doing something absurd, like painting the word “Historic” on a dilapidated and forgotten building, might say more than trying to do something too serious.
Style-wise though I’m at a point now where I’m moving away from just using simple typography, although on a large scale they do work really well. I’ve been combining vintage, and not-so-vintage, lettering with more flowing calligraphy and decorative elements. Also style comes from the different techniques and materials I use. Whether it’s paintbrushes and rollers on long extension poles, combining that with paint-filled fire extinguishers, or straight spraypaint, or brushes and ink and watercolor on paper, or enamel paint on mirrors.
LZ: Do you think it is important for street artists to translate their work and style when showing in a gallery? How does your work differ from the street to the studio?
R: Yeah, of course. You can’t take the same exact thing you do outside in the streets, put it indoors, and expect it to have the same impact. Or vice versa. It’s all about knowing your environment and creating something that works with that.
LZ: Tell us about your recent project at the wine cellar in the south of Spain. The photos look incredible.
R: I spent a weekend in a dank, moldy wine cellar in the Priorat (the wine region of Catalunya, Spain) with my friend from Difusor. We hung museum-style ropes across empty spaces, making an exhibition of nothing except the dark moldy walls themselves. The cellar wasn’t in use anymore, but the owners wanted to preserve the look of it and show visitors what was there before, making a sort of museum out of the crumbling, moldy, cracked walls and the rusty metal plates covering the holes in the ground. But the long passageway of empty rooms didn’t look like much before so we hung the red ropes in each room and all of a sudden it was an exhibition.
We then took quotes from the locals about the important aspects of the region and what they would want to change about it and wrote them across the walls in chalk. One of our favorite answers was “Res” (meaning: nothing), as in they wouldn’t change anything about the area. At the end of the long hallway I painted that word “Res”–well, I painted its shadow actually–to mark the end of the installation and leave the viewers with a word that was powerful but also empty. In a way it’s also exactly what we did: nothing. We put nothing of ourselves into the space, but just made what was already there more visible–the wine cellar itself as well as the words and feelings of the people from the region.
LZ: You’ve also created a screen print to benefit Haiti, how did you get involved with that?
R: The day after the earthquake I painted “Heart for Haiti” in an empty lot. It was something I really felt like expressing after hearing the horrible news and thinking back on how much that country has been suffering for years now from a collapsed government, extreme poverty, crime, hurricanes, and now this. After that it just felt natural to do something more with that image. I asked a friend who had a silkscreen studio if he would help me out with producing the prints and he agreed to donate his time, effort, and even his inks. I bought the paper and screens and dealt with all the storing, shipping, selling and promoting myself. Doctors Without Borders is a great foundation that I really wanted to support with this project. There are still a few prints available and all the profits will still be donated to Doctors Without Borders!
LZ: Aside from painting the streets, what other projects are you involved in?
R: Aside from writing on walls I also write a lot on paper and on the computer. I was an editor at a publishing house for a little while. I’ve written for a few magazines, and have been working as an editor for Modart Magazine for a couple of years now. I’m also writing and helping out with No New Enemies, an artist network started by my good friend Harlan Levey.
LZ: You’ve just closed a solo show in Brussels, do you intend to focus more on studio work for the near future or continue to put emphasis on street work?
R: More of both!
LZ: Top 5 artists of all time……
R: All time is a long time and I really don’t like picking favorites. But just so you don’t accuse me of avoiding the question, here’s a whole mess–and it is a very messy list–of artists that have inspired me or whose work I just enjoy, starting from around when I was seven years old: My brother, Looney Tunes, Jack Kirby, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Eric Lee, Sam Kieth, Daim, Seen, Ces, Futura, ESPO, Twist, Margaret Kilgallen, Ralph Steadman, R. Crumb, Edward Hopper, Jamie Hewlett, Picasso, Joan Miró, Robert Rauschenberg, Giacometti, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Chuck Close, Faile, Blu, Smash137, Tauba Auerbach, Cai Guo-Qiang, Felice Varini and too many more to list here so I’m just going to stop now.
LZ: If you weren’t making art, you would be….
R: Slowly going insane.
Ripo is an American artist from New York City and living in Barcelona, Spain. Earlier this year, he had an exhibition at the Galeria Cosmo in Barcelona entitled Don’t Get Me Wrong.
Ripo interviewed by Lori Zimmer
Written by Lori Zimmer
Edited by Lori Zimmer and Tyler Malone
Photography by Jonathan Grassi
Design by Marie Havens
Ripo, NYC, 2010, Photography by Jonathan Grassi
Ripo, NYC, 2010, Photography by Jonathan Grassi