In the Studio: Ryna Frankel

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

As a kid growing up in Chicago I loved art, but I didn’t think I was good enough to be an artist. When I started college I was pre-med and didn’t plan to study art at all. My second semester, I took a writing class called Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and there began learning about contemporary art as well as about a major at UPenn called Visual Studies that combined art practice with theory. So that’s what I ended up studying. After college, I did a post-bacc in painting at SAIC and then decided to take some time off from school before applying for my MFA. I moved to Brooklyn for a few years and learned about the struggles of trying to work and maintain a studio practice. I applied to grad school after about three years and ended up at the University of Washington in Seattle. In grad school, I feel like I finally started to find some success as an artist (maybe even to finally believe I could be an artist) and was able to take advantage of several opportunities. Now, I’m moving back home to Chicago at the end of the month and excited to see what comes next!

2. You stated in your submission that you work across painting, sculpture and installation. It also appears as though you have worked within performance art. Do you consider yourself an “interdisciplinary artist?” And what does the process of moving across artistic platforms mean to you and your practice?

In college I was a visual studies major which was an interdisciplinary program across Fine Arts, Art History, and Philosophy/Science of Seeing, so the foundation of my arts education was interdisciplinary. That is a really important aspect of my practice since it allows me to feel pretty open in the medium with which I am making work and open to trying new/diverse things. But at the end of the day, I am a painter. That is generally the lens I use to look at artwork and the world. And the paintings I make come in many different forms. It feels necessary for me to be able to move across disciplines in that this way of working seems truest to life where we are constantly engaging with all different sorts of stimuli and information.

3. The word “cute” and color choices, specifically the color pink, play a major role in the pieces you create. You stated “My hope is for the tenderness and care I extend to these representations to translate into a useful action towards living things on our planet.” What internal and external factors motivate you in the creation of your representations?

I am obsessed with cute things! But it’s more than just the enjoyable feeling I get from thinking about/looking at something cute that attracts me. It’s the power dynamic that makes something cute that I’m interested in… something is cute in part because it is pathetic or incapable in some way and that charms us into giving it attention. I think on a personal level I feel cute in that way of being powerless and by making cute things I am questioning how powerless the cute object really is. And then there’s another motivation which is that I want to make things that demand care and tenderness from me and from the viewer.

4. How do you know when a specific exhibition is ready?

I don’t know exactly. I just know. Some things there are just no room left. When they’re done being put together in a semi-coherent idea, I call it done. I come back to things, and I’m not completely committed to the idea that my interest in a project ends when an exhibition for it comes. I guess sometimes they’re “done” and sometimes they’re never ready.

5. I noticed you have been adjunct teaching while maintaining your personal studio practice. What are some of the biggest challenges in being a working artist? What parts are the most rewarding?

It’s really difficult to have a bunch of different jobs/teaching gigs and then also the job of going into the studio and making and then trying to apply to shows and opportunities on top of all of that. But I do really enjoy teaching. And I find that there are a few students every class with whom I can make a genuine connection and it’s so awesome and rewarding to watch them grow and see their ideas take shape. I have a tendency to overcommit to things and overextend myself, so that’s something I’m trying to work on to maintain a better work/studio/life balance. But when it comes to giving time and energy and advice to students, that feels like something worthwhile to sacrifice a little of my own sanity to.

6. Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events?

No. I’ve had an amazing but crazy year with 3 solo shows and a few other projects. I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio without any deadlines for a while.

7. What advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

My grandmother always used to tell me that if I don’t stick up for myself and advocate for myself, no one else is going to do it for me. I have to put in the work and only then can I expect people to care about it. And I feel like that has definitely been true in my life to this point.

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