Interview with Michael A. Rippens

Posted by on Jan 11, 2009 in Interviews


So do you have a web site that we can look at?

What’s the url?


Okay. have you changed it recently?

It seems different.

The big landing page.

I don’t remember that.


I just put up the big cardboard piece from Fountain

The opening page is a “mural” I made for a disability Center in Long Island

It’s interesting. I don’t remember it from before.

Its made of cut plastic and is called “forward motion”

Would you like to talk about it.

Umm 2001 maybe

Okay. there you go.

the info is in the murals section of the website

Have you been using cut plastic for some time.

Seems so.

I began using it my sr. yr @ Pratt

What year was that. 2000?

It was a progression of materials from paint to cut paper to cut cardboard to cut wood then the plastic stuff

yeah 99-2000

the plastic was so much easier to work with and big and fast

Roger that. I’m wondering what pushed you toward that medium?


So your work is all drawn basically with an exacto correct?

I could make a 30 ft piece in the time it took me to make an 8ft one

out of wood, that is

Ummm Utility knife

It begins with photos of course

What do you think the medium of cut plastic says about you as a person or is there anything there. Because to me that would be very difficult and taxing.

They are beautiful by the way. I’m just wondering what pulled you toward it. Just that it was easier than cutting wood?

Well, I don’t like being tied to materials that are traditionally intended for making Art

Why did you go from painting to cutting?

Did you feel painting was limiting?

I began making paintings that tried to be cutout images. I was really fighting w/ the media and decided I was only using paint cuz I wanted to be a “painter”

So what do you call yourself now?

A cutter?

I guess you are over labels by now.


Then I’m like “screw that” and I put tracing paper over one of my oil paintings and transferred it to black matte board and “cut out” my painting. It was a liberating breakthrough

I would call you a human since I have met you in person and you seemed so personable.

I still call my works Paintings

Why is that? Because they are the traditional subtraction and addition?

I never thought it was strange. Like how light artists might refer to their work as sculptures.

Image making.

Then everyone asked me what these things are (my plexi or vinyl sticker pieces or tape pieces)

Are they not more drawings than paintings. And an important question, to me with image making, isn’t it all drawing?

No one else likes calling them paintings

Umm I’m a few questions back- hold on

Sorry. I get excited.

I don’t really see them as drawings. I make my drawings on the computer now.

They are the result of the drawings

Am I caught up?

So if you take something and make it more it becomes a painting?

So drawings to you are studies kind of?

Not just that. I consider the way I work with different media as “painting” with whatever it is I’m using

So working with video is painting also to you?

Drawings are the plan for the paintings – I never really show anyone my drawings. I guess I’m not really a drawer

No, although editing seems similar

Editing video to you seems like painting?

So if that’s the case, what would you say about performance art or installation art?

I’m not really a video artist, but I love to dabble superficially in all media

I guess they all kinda come from the same place – the place where you make creative decisions

Gotcha. Thanks. Let’s go on if you don’t mind.

Then they become their own thing


So you were at Pratt for you B.F.A. or otherwise.


In painting?


and screwing around

And then you stuck around Brooklyn for a bit?

4+ years

I worked for a non-prof art ed org

And you met the Openground folks around and about.

and made and showed work

through a friend at Studio in a School (where I worked)

Were you showing with them or elsewhere.

I joined up for their last season, I think

When did you leave Brooklyn?

Before they gave up the space in b-burg

In 2005


then took an extended art vaca. to do residencies and shows

Then you moved back home or is LA a new frontier?

LA is and was home

How is it treating you?

Love the weather!

Are you glad you are back home?

Are you staying in LA or do you still have wanderlust?

The quality of life is much better that brooklyn cuz I was poor all the time and trying to do way too much.

In LA you take it easy and enjoy nature and stuff more

I get antsy and want to move on every 4 yrs or so.

How is the LA art scene?

Have you showed there lately?

I might do the bay area next, but I always fantasize about moving back to NYC – even though I loved and hated it

I had a solo show in Echo Park last year

I hear you. I’m having the same fantasies.

Ever think about Seattle or Portland?

The art scene is much smaller and less mature than NYC, but growing in an exciting way

In LA?


Ummm I’m afraid of cold, but would love to check those places out. I’ve never even been!

Yeah it’s cold. Blizzard weather. Have friends up there. I’m in Florida.

So Michael, what are you working on now.

Yeah, many young artists and galleries in LA which often makes for less mature work, but also allows for a lot of freedom and experimentation

Is there a lot of the low brow scene there?

Seems to be low brow heaven.

I’m working on a commission right now, but as soon as that’s done I’m gonna finish up a triptych called Heaven is a place online

Yeah! especially downtown where I live!

How has your work been received in low brow heaven?

I’ve also been doing more of those masking tape paintings

I don’t show around here much (or at all)

Do you currently have a day job?

I love to look at everyone elses stuff tho

Yeah I work with my fam biz, a big reason I’m stuck in LA

I don’t care one way or another. I mean I hope you can pay for your rent.

I pay it

But some folks love the whole romance of someone being a full-time artist although I’m learning all full-time artists I know have money coming in from somewhere else.

I love that idea, too

Isn’t it grand?

Most artists are still full time artists, even though they have a day job

What did you think of Art Basel?

I hear you on that. I agree 100 percent.

I’m always thinking about my art and bemoning the fact that I’m not workinf on it due to a day job.

Our minds are always somewhere else aren’t they it seems.

My studio is in my head.

Cheap rent.

Bemoning the fact. Ha….


I’m enjoying your piece we swapped on in Miami. It’s under our stairs.

I’ll send a pic soon.

Let me ask you one more serious question.



don’t expect a serious answer tho

Do you have any words of advice for young artists who are interested in pursuing a life in the arts.


work work work

and then go to med school

Good one.

Okay man. Nice catching up.

Nice little look into your world.

appreciate it.

that’s it- kinda like removing a band-aid

it was fun thanks



  1. Byron King
    January 12, 2009

    Does anyone want to try and give Michael the same type of constructive input we gave Johnathan McDermott last week? That would be really swell of you guys if you are down.

  2. Frank
    January 12, 2009

    I’m noticing that Michael, as many street artists and art students, are caring less about the media itself and more about the image. I see a move away from appreciating the random aspects of paint/drawing media and instead concentrating on the crispness of the image. Jason Wright’s work is a good local example. Smooth surface, well constructed imagery with almost no sign of a human hand moving around the paint. The apparent use of stencils in Michael’s work (even the crowd scenes being stencils themselves) add to that very mechanical approach.. “When Michael says ”I was really fighting w/ the media and decided I was only using paint cuz I wanted to be a “painter”, I think he admits that he couldn’t entirely bend the media to his will and needs a faster way to find a powerful image with less random qualities. It is hard to control paint; it’s kinda like herding cats. I wonder if the move toward a less painterly image is the result of impatience, influence of computers or the clean flatness of comic books and cartoons.

    In art history, I think artist themselves became more important and celebrated by the public when artists developed more separate and personal styles. The tendency to create work that looks more produced than created seems to contradict that.

  3. Frank
    January 12, 2009

    …and to add; I am really liking the crowd scenes. It inspires me with a couple of ideas for my own work.

  4. byron king
    January 13, 2009

    Well, I’m a bit bias as I have “We Are Just Reflections of Our Time” in my very small collection. Michael and I traded pieces after Art Basel. We were in the Openground show at the Fountain Art Fair. I really liked the concept behind that project he showed because it was tied into MySpace. The project is called MikeSpace:

    And what I gather is he pulled images of selected Mike’s. Himself being a Mike it was a sort of portraiture project of Mike’s throughout MySpace. It was a sampling of course but it allowed him to see what other Mike’s were about. In a sort of voyeuristic manner without getting to know them personally. On each portrain he also included the headline from their profile in text from each Mike on their portrait.

    So I don’t only see process in his work but the concepts he’s working with. And to tell you the truth I find his process quit painstaking and meticulous, something I utterly respect. Dripping and sloshing paint to me has been completely over romanticized.

    The piece I have now hanging under my stairs in my home by Mike continues to catch my eye as I still can’t imagine working in this manner. I also enjoy how his work is a project. Each piece belongs to a larger body. So he expresses his ideas through a consistent body of work. Something the majority of artists I know personally aren’t doing. I enjoy seeing that.

    The work also came with a “How To” on taking care of it throughout the years and a statement on the project. All very professional I thought.

    So to me regardless of the fact that he’s using graphic material I find his projects to work on a very conceptual level. He is dealing with very personal and social issues through his projects.

    The one thing I might enjoy seeing is a description of each project on the web site as I know there are many levels to his work now that we’ve discussed his work in person and I don’t see descriptions on That might help the uninformed viewer to get more from the images he’s producing.

    Thanks for sharing Mike.

    Keep cutting away. I’m looking forward to seeing your “Heaven is a Place” project when it’s completed.

  5. Frank
    January 13, 2009

    “Dripping and sloshing paint to me has been completely over romanticized.”

    True and my point exactly. 100+ years ago that was cutting edge, even considered vulgar. Now, it is often seen as romantic, which implies anything but vulgar. I think it is a part of the re-evaluation of the painter/artist correlation. In the past a person strove to be painters, and in time, maybe create Art. Now artists, for the most part, consider the craft of painting can be bypassed for a direct line to self expression.

    None of this is a judgment for or against either idea. It is an observation of the sweeping movement that take place in visual art… a movement that Michael’s work unintentionally comments on.

    In some ways, the meticulous method Michael and stencil artistes are using is a turning the clock back to a Renaissance like approach to painting. The stencil look is a kind of new chiaroscuro. Very smooth, perfect, and mathematical indeed. It is quite different from the Abstract Expressionist movement, which is a high point of painterly paintings (embracing that chaotic element).

    The pendulum is swinging back and I’m curious why.

    Check out Logan Hicks and Kngee for examples of that meticulous approach taken to an extreme.

  6. Michael
    January 15, 2009

    Hi Globatron,

    I’ve been enjoying this discussion on my work and process. I just wanted to address Byron’s rquest for more info about each project on my website.

    It may be easily missed, but on each series page of my site ( the final thumbnail in each group of images is a grey box that says “info” in white. If you click on this “info” thumbnail you will see a box w/ a brief description of the ideas behind or inspiration for that particular body of work. Some descriptions are longer than others, but they’ll at least answer a few questions about what I was trying to do or what that group of work is all about.

    Thanks for your interest in the work and for all your comments!

  7. byron king
    January 15, 2009

    Hi Michael, I stand corrected. I can’t believe I missed the info box. It’s very obvious actually now that you pointed it out. Appreciate you doing the interview. Keep me posted on future projects if you have the time.

  8. Akbar Lightning
    January 15, 2009

    these are cool. it would be interesting to see a bit more indulgence in the material. in other words, more abstraction with the material itself, with the imagery a bit less emphasized.

    i find that the images are so central as to become overly focused on the photograph being used. i think the artist has more intensity than this, i feel this by the color choice which is passionate and risky, which i like.

    some of the photos really play into a kind of degraded society theme i see a lot in art fairs, it’s not my thing, i find it kind of condescending in a weird way, i know it’s not intentional, but it’s kind of like reality shows that humiliate strange people.

    for this reason i like the atomic bomb image the best, because it focuses on the material and uses symbolic juxtaposition. again, i think the photographic images are great, but it would be fun to see them more lost in the vinyl.

    there’s my take. i would also have liked some more serious answers to the questions. perhaps it had to do with the chat medium.

    i will definitely keep an eye on this artist.


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