Educators as well as accomplished artists, David Rich and Paulette Myers-Rich have been integral to the growth of local art community. David has extensive experience teaching having taught at several schools, including Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Hartford Art School, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, and others. Paulette has also taught at various universities, including Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and she has also worked with the Minnesota Center for Book Arts doing letter press work. The duo reside in their beautiful home/studio in St. Paul.
View the Slideshow on Flickr.
Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston.
Secrets of the City: Where are you from?
Paulette Myers-Rich: St. Paul.
David Rich: Chicago.
Secrets: How long did you live there until you came to Minneapolis?
DR: I grew up in Chicago and started art school at the Philadelphia College of Art. I was there two years and then left to study drawing with another teacher, thinking it would only be for a semester. But it opened up some things I needed to explore, and I never went back. Next I studied with my teacher’s teacher at Skowhegan, then went to grad school, and then lived in San Francisco for a while. I moved here because I wanted to put down roots, and I knew there was a strong food co-op movement, a progressive community, and I could afford a decent size space and
concentrate on the work.
Secrets: Paulette, did you do any traveling?
PMR: Not much. My friend the poet Kevin O’Rourke calls me “a person of place”.
DR: Deep roots.
PMR: Deep roots. I’m third generation in St. Paul. I’m typical of many here in that regard, although my grandmother grew up in Minneapolis in the Phillips neighborhood. My grandparents moved to St. Paul to raise their family. She was an Irish Catholic, so there you go. I’ve thought a lot in the past about leaving, but the people I know who‘ve moved here from elsewhere tell me “This is a really great place, why would you want to leave?” So, that’s given me a chance to see St. Paul through different eyes. Staying has also allowed me to see the bigger picture of a place, how things have changed over time in the natural and built environment here. It’s informed the content of my work, which isn’t overtly or obviously about St. Paul, but it’s quite specifically located here.
Secrets: How did you get started in your individual fields?
PMR: I grew up in the inner city during the 50’s and 60’s and at that time there were alternative educational programs in the St. Paul public schools called “learning centers” where some kids would spend half their day at their high school and the other half at one of these centers. It allowed you to get deeper into the subject matter, such as environmental science or a trade or music or art. One center was called Film in the Cities and I was interested in photography so I decided to go there when I was 17. I began working in experimental filmmaking and kept going. Even though I got married and had a child right out of high school, I was already a practicing artist at that point and I just never stopped. I always found opportunities to study with other people through alternative means and was involved with other artists working away in their studios. It was a holistic education because I was developing my art and learning through working. So, it was self-directed through conversations, critiques, studying, interning with established artists and by toughing it out in the studio over the years. It’s been a lifelong thing and I’m not done yet.
DR: Art, music, and community have been my main things ever since high school. When I started art school in 1970 the strongest energy was in conceptual approaches to sculpture. Only after a couple of years did I begin to realize that for me painting and drawing were compelling, inexhaustible, and intimate ways of working. So like a lot of people, I came to painting and drawing through the side door, the long way around. It was never about any medium seeming more important than any other; it just felt like the most adventurous and direct way for me to work, struggling and figuring things out along the way.
Secrets: Paulette, what advantages do you find working in black and white photography versus color?
PMR: I like the transformative nature of black and white photography, how it removes the subject a step from it’s so-called reality and gives an alternate read, which is a part of my content. And even in this time, where everyone is using digital cameras, I still love the darkroom, I love the process of working with film and it’s just a part of my nervous system. When I look through my lens I know how things are going to appear in black and white, how the film, developer and paper will respond to various kinds of light, and so on. All the material knowledge of
photography that I’ve built up over the past 30-odd years has really informed the way I see things and of course, my aesthetic. I keep thinking at some point, I want to move into doing some color work and I primarily used color when I was making films, but I did some black and white too, and I just tipped over into that, because I really love it. And as a printmaker, it translates beautifully into the etching process, which I use for my artists books.
Secrets: David what’s your approach to composition in your painting?
DR: It depends on the piece. I rework a lot, and things are wildly up for grabs much of the time. For me composition is not about mechanics; it’s about arriving at what the underlying idea is really about. The process is subtractive as well as additive, and involves risk; it’s kind of an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s always in the service of the content, of arriving at some kind of personal storytelling, even if it is non-literal. It’s still content-oriented.
PMR: And you’re still very rooted in seeing, looking and observation.
DR: Definitely. Direct observation led me to the sense that everything is contingent, and everything is interdependent. As abstract as some of the work is, it is still rooted in physical experience, situations, and our immediate surroundings.
PMR: It’s our job as artists to structure and incorporate meaning in a way that the viewer can pick up on, but not tell them what they should be thinking.
Secrets: Paulette, I noticed poetry was used to complement to your photography on your site. What’s your favorite author or piece of literature.
PMR: Oh boy. Well, I can say that one of my favorite poets is Charles Olson. His Maximus Poems is important to me because it’s so specific about place, but he also goes into all these other speculations that bring in deep history, mathematics, mythology, science, philosophy and the everyday person on the street. The way he constructs images in his poetry is compelling and I would say that he’s one of the writers that I look to in terms of thinking about place and content. I make artists’ books because my work is interdisciplinary and when I observe and photograph a place, I’m thinking about and researching the many different aspects of it, so Olson’s poetry is important to me. And the poet Charles Reznikoff. He’s also rooted in place, the everyday and often brings in history, but his language is simple and clear. Olson is much more abstract but he somehow always brings it back around to the ordinary. That’s what I love about his writing.
Secrets: Any literature that you prefer David?
DR: Well, Charles Olson is someone we have a shared interest in.
PMR: Yeah, I was going to say I learned about him from David, who is one of my main teachers- I live with an amazing educator.
DR: When we first moved in together it was like all my Charles Olson books disappeared into her studio. (laughs)
PMR: I think part of the reason we share a lot of these writers is because we share similar material and content in our work. Often we read things together or one will inform the other or talk about it. Even though our work is very different there’s enough cross over and enough shared content and the ideas that we both care about show up in our work and manifest in different ways.
DR: A novel I read not long ago that made an impact on me was Richard Price’s Lush Life. It’s set in the Lower East Side in New York. He’s got a great ear for dialogue, attitude, and the way social forces are embodied in everyday situations.
Secrets: What is your favorite part about living in the Twin Cities?
PMR: I love the people here and their commitment to community, the way people are always trying to make it better, especially the dedication to the arts. I was so happy to see that the majority of citizens here voted to raise funds for the arts and environment at a time when we’re in a recession and the “no new taxes” rant was
being shrieked everywhere. That made me proud.
DR: The way that different circles of people overlap and interact here, especially in terms of music. As for our neighborhood, Paulette always says it’s got character and characters. We consider ourselves citizens of the People’s Republic of West Seventh.
Secrets: What is your favorite establishment in the Twin Cities?
PMR: Lately I’m very much in the ‘hood. I like the Glockenspiel or the Muddy Pig, at night, and the Day by Day Café for lunch. And all the antique stores on West 7th Street. I really miss the Hungry Mind Bookstore.
DR: Khyber Pass is kind of like my second kitchen. I also like La Cucaracha, the food co-ops, KFAI, and Cedar Cultural Center.