Inside the Studio

Betty Ritschel creates layered, inspired figural works

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

My main inspiration is the human body. I work with the “space” between people and upon memories or happenings. I’m using what I have around me and see in my everyday situations, like a work in progress that follows my daily life. Working upon the daily hurdles that I as mum, wife and artist am going through leaves me with little creative energy. There are many things to take care of and it is an ongoing fight, which you only manage if you are stubborn and really want to stay in front of your canvas. But I love my frustrations since they continually give me things to work upon.

The human body has always fascinated me but it took me quite long to figure out how to “get it down on my canvas” and to find my way around. In the beginning I spent so much time developing my figures, and the experimental part that I find very interesting decreased. That is when I began to use the characters again and again, and soon we got very familiar and somehow I see them as a small family. I work in series and enjoy it when I am working on two or three paintings simultaneously. I find it difficult to tell “the whole story” in just one painting, and like it when I can develop the same subject in more ways. Often I work in layers using the transparency to get depth into my paintings. I create layers that can be very different but are combined through colors. I’m pushed by curiosity and try to come up with something that I didn’t expect myself to create or haven’t done before. Painting is very physical for me and what I like the most is when I’m able to reach the point where I’m working almost unconsciously and just acting by intuition. The joy and the satisfaction I feel can keep me going for days.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

It could be, “Draw what you see and not what you think you see”, or while I studied in Amsterdam a professor constantly said, or rather shouted, “Make statements”. This prompted me to work fast and to use the black oil bar, which since then has become very characteristic of my way of working. One of the last things he told me was to “Take a walk on the wild side,” which has also inspired me.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

When I really need to concentrate I work without music, but for the rest of the time I find music stimulating and prefer to work with music or simply the radio. I use music as a source of inspiration as well. In the beginning I prefer to work in silence, since I’m sketching right onto the canvas I have to stay sharp as it’s so easy to make a mistake.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

This is very difficult since there are too many to choose from. But if I could only have one piece, I would like one of Antonio Tàpies’ big pieces.

Who are your favorite writers?

I used to read everything written by Paul Auster. I like the way things are infiltrated in his writing and that is how I work myself–with all my different layers. Usually I’m reading all kind of genres and I like writers from all over: Scandinavian crimes as well as South American mystic­ism–you name it. The last book I read was “The Hand of Fatima” by Ildefonso Falcones, which inspired me quite a bit.

About the Author

Katherine Henning is Senior Associate Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service here.