Artist Mary Curtis Ratcliff shares a fascinating collection of mixed media kinetic sculpture inspired by natural phenomena. Visit her website to see more of her portfolio.
I grew up in Birmingham, Michigan, a midwestern suburb of Detroit. From the time I can remember, I was always making something—drawings in pastel, oil paintings, Tinkertoy towers, sewn stuffed animals, knitted sweaters, snow forts and sand castles on the shore of Lake Michigan.
I got my first Brownie camera at age seven. I’m still incorporating photographs in my two-dimensional works and my current kinetic sculpture. My brother and I built a town for our stuffed animals complete with cardboard box housing, paper coins and a bank. It was made out of a wine box with compartments for the animals to deposit their earnings.
Our parents took us to foreign films at the Cranbrook Institute, to the Art Institute of Chicago and to Swan Lake in New York City and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It wasn’t until I took a sculpture class in college that, at age 19, my instructor saw that I was an artist and encouraged me to go to the Rhode Island School of Design. There I majored in sculpture and finally returned to it in 1973 by doing a series of large kinetic wind sculptures out of colored Japanese ribbon.
Over a 50 year career, I’ve made over one thousand works of art. Much of it incorporates photography, painting, drawing and image transfer. Seven years ago I made Windbreak. I said to myself, “Didn’t I make round, kinetic sculptures before?” and realized the first one was in 1973.
Going to international museums when I was young, I would come upon a large Calder mobile. I would stop for a long time and just watch it turn in space. I was also very interested in dance, another form of movement.
These influences plus time spent with the Lakota Sioux on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota attending Sundance Ceremonies and dancing the Shawl Dance inside the Sundance Circle at night, all engrained the form of the circle in me. Sundance Circle, drum, fire pit and sweat lodge all came out in my work decades ago.
My current signature style is kinetic sculpture. Mostly they are made of circular plexiglass disks with my photographic images either printed or painted on the transparent surface. They are suspended in compositions of three disks of various sizes and hung at various heights that turn in space and cast ever-changing shadows. The disks can be hung vertically as a variation on this theme.
I have applied for a grant to help realize a large installation that would be the largest and most comprehensive statement of my work to date. I will hang approximately 14 kinetic works in a large spiral, all bearing nature-based imagery.
Two-dimensional mixed media works on wooden panels will be on the surrounding walls with video projections of clouds, birds, water, trees, landscapes, woods, mushrooms and what is also underground in the mycorrhizal zone. This environment will surround the viewers and make an ecological statement about Mother Earth.
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