Meet November Artist of the Month: Charity Ridpath

Our December artist of the month will challenge your notions of jewelry, trash, and the relationship between the two. Jewelry artist Charity Ridpath takes single-use plastics, such as bags, containers and cups, and turns them into nature-inspired, wearable compositions. Read more about Charity, her practice, and her inspiration in the interview below.

Art/Craft is the language I use to explore and learn about the world and how I fit into it.

What is your artistic background?

I grew up making things. I love learning new creative skills and techniques, so I know a little about a lot of things! A few years ago, I earned a BFA in studio art with a specialization in Metals. It was there that I learned about and started making Contemporary Art Jewelry. 

What are your favorite materials to work with/types of items to make?

I love working with unconventional materials, especially things that would otherwise end up in the trash. I don’t feel so precious when working with this material, so I feel freer to experiment and make mistakes. It is also a challenge to transform it into something that no longer looks like trash, so it keeps my focus for a long time! Currently, I work with single-use plastics to make both wearable and highly sculptural jewelry. My go-to materials are bubble wrap, clear plastic salad/fruit containers, and plastic bags. 

From where do you draw your inspiration?

I draw inspiration from nature in general. Right now, I am looking at a lot of images of geological formations and mushrooms. When I am manipulating a piece of plastic, and the results remind me of these forms, I feel like I am on the right track. I also love learning about archeological digs and wonder what they will unearth from our time. I think this influences how I look at my own refuse. What story will it tell later?

What is your creative process like? 

I start out by making small material manipulation samples. I cut, heat, score, fold, sew, layer, and iterate. At first, my job is to make ugly little trash sculpture sketches until I start seeing potential. With each iteration, I try to recreate the part I saw potential in until I have a technique I like. Usually, I gravitate towards designs that reference something natural. Sometimes a design or sample becomes a piece of jewelry right away. Sometimes it connects to something bigger and sparks more in-depth research before it is used in work.  

What is the most rewarding thing about your practice?

It gives me a reason to follow a winding path of interest or research. It gives purpose to my explorative nature. It also helps me seek out, meet and learn from people I may have never encountered but enrich my life and understanding of the world.

And what challenges do you face as an artist?

I am susceptible to putting my mental and physical health at risk to get more done. To combat this, I have been creating a personalized set of expectations. This includes making my own metrics for success and sustainable expectations for how much I can produce. It also includes listening to my body when it asks for breaks and valuing introspective time as much as time spent on networking. It’s a challenge but also a work in progress!

Work in progress

Outside of your practice, do you do any other creative activities/what are your interests?

I do! I love collage, watercolor, making up sci-fi stories with my partner, singing, weaving, printmaking, cooking, writing, and gardening. Though not explicitly creative, I also hike and participate in weekly trash pickups, both of which inspire ideas that I bring to my bench. 

What role does the artist have in society?

I think artists and their art can explore the unknown, unclear, and uncomfortable without pressure to find an answer.  

Quartz Bubble Wrap Ring

What is art/craft to you?

Art/Craft is the language I use to explore and learn about the world and how I fit into it. It is also a tool I use to cope with uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed. 

Tell us about your favorite artist or artists that inspire you.

The ecological land art created by Agnes Denes just floors me. I love the example she sets, that art can be a “benign solution” to a problem. How Theaster Gates thoughtfully uses the cultural history of materials to build installations and functioning buildings that support communities is incredible and layered. His work has forever impacted how I look at the environments and materials around me. Dario Robleto has this inspiring ability to turn a natural or scientific system into material poetry. After learning about one of his pieces, I always feel like I understand something more about science, humanity’s history, and myself. 

You can learn more about Charity over on her website, https://www.charityridpath.com, and you can follow her on Instagram @deartoday.