Beverly Ress

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I grew up in Cleveland, OH, and Ridgewood, NJ. I’ve lived in Silver Spring, MD, just outside of DC, for most of my adult life.
What’s your favorite part of the DC-area?
I like the light in DC––buildings are low, and there’s a fair amount of green. There are amazing artists working here––people whose work I admire as much as anything else I see. It’s an interesting scene, very spread out, diverse, and constantly shifting. One friend compared it to underground mycelia, which feels pretty accurate. Also, we have amazing (and often, free!) museums and collections.
Have you always worked on paper?
I began as a sculptor. The drawings came out of that, for me.
When did you begin your current practice?
I moved from making sculpture and installations into representational drawing, about 20 years ago.
What connections do you see between the work you did as a sculptor and the work you’re making today?
When I first started drawing, a friend said, ‘Those are sculptor’s drawings.’ I think she was responding to the one-object-on-the-page, and the shifting sense of space that occurs from drawing to drawing. Once I began cutting into the drawings and folding them into 3D forms, I realized not only how sculptural that process felt, but also how much I thought of the finished drawings as raw materials to be worked with. But there’s a fine line: I once made a drawn 3D piece that that was too dimensional - it lost its drawing qualities a bit. I like hitting a sweet spot, a sort of 2.5D.
"Once I began cutting into the drawings and folding them into 3D forms, I realized not only how sculptural that process felt, but also how much I thought of the finished drawings as raw materials to be worked with." — Beverly Ress
What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
I want to make work that looks at the human condition, specifically - how do we confront our own mortality?
How do you choose the different elements that come together in your works?
I love the challenge of drawing representationally. I love seeing the graphic qualities that various mathematical formulas predict, and interlacing them with the representational imagery. I’m also very interested in the emptiness that can mean so much on the page, something that I’ve observed and learned from in the traditional visual arts of Japan.
What necessities do you require when making your art?
I need Lyra Rembrandt pencils and, almost always, Arches paper. Arches paper has a quality that feels ‘fleshy’ to me - it’s a little spongy, and has a warmth that works for what I’m after. I often have the radio on to keep me company. Most importantly, I require my subject matter: various objects from the natural world that I sometimes find, but more often access from museum collections. I don’t like to draw from photos––I’ve gotta have the thing in front of me.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I went from drawing objects that I’d find, to drawing objects in the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, to drawing in the collection of a medical museum. I think of what I’m doing a little differently now than when I started - I began by wanting to talk about mortality; while that’s still true, I am thinking a lot these days about the wonder and complexity of the physical world - it’s an extraordinary place. In the future…? I have been wanting to create drawings where the images slide off the page, but haven’t figure out how to do that - maybe I will!
"I don’t like to draw from photos––I’ve gotta have the thing in front of me." — Beverly Ress
What considerations do you have when working with museum collections?
When I started at the Natural History Museum, I was specifically looking for color. Someone suggested the bird division, because they have some incredibly colored birds. So, I went to that division, without quite knowing what I’d find, and spent a few days just looking at what they had. At the Mutter, since my time was pretty short, I looked online for interesting objects before I got into the collection, and they pulled what I wanted. With the Museum of Health and Medicine, I’ve been going there long enough now that a few people give me tips about interesting stuff I might want to look at. Essentially, I’m looking for things that are beautiful, or colorful, of completely mysterious, or tender––or some great combination of all of those qualities.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Cutting the drawings always intimidates me! I usually have to take baby steps, over a long period of time (while cutting from the back of the drawing, where I can’t see it), to get that part done.
Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?
I would use the terms intuition and logic to describe those aspects of my approach: the placement of the object on the page is very intuitive, as is the decision about how to push the drawing to potential ruin––do I cut it? Lay a pool of watercolor on it? Let bugs chew into it? And though I choose my subjects intuitively, the drawing process itself feels like a kind of logical deep looking; and many of the cut forms I use are based on mathematics and physics.
What tangible objects or intangible moments are you most interested in representing through your works?
One of my collectors, a museum curator, told me that she finds my work ‘melancholic and humorous and true’, which thrilled me. That’s just where I want the work to be.
How important is spontaneity in your art?
My process is not particularly spontaneous. I’d describe it as slow and meditative.
Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?
The challenge of observation. There’s something so deeply satisfying about being seen by, and deeply seeing, another being. It’s a thrill to participate in that.
Did you go to art school?
I studied art at a small Quaker liberal arts college, Earlham, in Indiana. My main professor there, Garrett Boone, had a great sense of play and experimentation. During that time I spent about three months in New York as a studio assistant to Charles Ross––his interest in math and science was exciting to me. I went to grad school at MICA in Baltimore, where I was in the Rinehart School of Sculpture.
Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?
I’m a huge fan of the work of Charles Ritchie. I’ve also always love the work of Vija Celmins.
Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?
I love The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio; James Turrell’s work has always interested me; Theaster Gates is working with big, expansive ideas; Jenny Saville’s handling of paint is amazing. I love following them all, and many, many others.
Is there any artwork on display in your home or studio?
We have several beautiful paintings by my husband’s cousin, Steve Hankin; I just traded a drawing for a wonderful wall sculpture by Marie Ringwald; I have a Smithsonian reissue/print of an Audubon bird that had belonged to my grandmother; a fantastic little painting by Jo Rango; a lovely print by Lynn Schmidt; an abstract gouache by Andrew Mockler, a trade from when we were both at the Fine Arts Work Center; a lovely intuitive sculpture by Betsy Packard; and a thrilling small figurative sculpture by Rick Weaver. And some work by my kids.
Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?
My great aunt and uncle owned the Columbus Washboard Factory, in Ohio.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a multi-color litho, which I’m really excited (and nervous) about. I have the idea to produce a 5-print folio, which would be a lot of fun.

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