Glorious Broad #5: Faith Ringgold

Photo by Bryant Norman

Photo by Bryant Norman

GLORIOUS PROFESSION: Painter. Feminist. Educator. Author. Activist.

GLORIOUS PERSONA: A No-Holes-Barred Glorious Broad

GLORIOUS QUALITIES: Persistent, Creative, Rebellious, Fun, Ferocious

GLORIOUS FACT: She waited fifteen years – FIFTEEN – for her memoir, We Flew Over the Bridge, to get published. And what did she do in the interim? How about authoring sixteen award-winning books at last count. And she is still at it...

GLORIOUS PHILOSOPHY:

Bring us the newness. Of the time. The place. And the events surrounding YOUR life. And that is what I have tried to do my whole life. Here. And Now. That’s your job as an artist.

GB: Faith's fierce, determined, beautiful face reached out to me as I was flipping through a New York Times T Magazine article called “Works in Progress." While I was aware of her art, and thrown by her looks, it was her personality that clinched it with the quote “If you live long enough and you persist, you are going to get recognition. You have to stay in the game.” I pondered that and thought – I must approach this woman. This is EXACTLY the spirit I am trying to convey in this project, in this tribe, Glorious Broads.

And so I did. I emailed her after reading a little bit more about her many, many accomplishments. I saw a few of her interviews on youtube…and I knew I had a chance. She was funny! She was sassy! She was deliciously human – and there was nothing that would get in the way of her art – of her goals…my kind of lady. I wrote her and that very same night I got a note back: “Let’s do it.”

We met at her home in her big spacious studio – walls filled with projects, art, sculpture, shows she was orchestrating – boundless life force. She was warm, she was funny and she was sheer power. A  gorgeous woman at 85. We talked of our mutual love for Dinah Washington and old jazz. She told me a story of her move to Jones Road in New Jersey, where she lives now. It was a story of racism she had never experienced before. She came from Harlem. She hadn’t a clue – but oh, she prevailed. She ended her tale with “you really don’t know who you’re messing with.”

 But I knew – I knew it from one glance at that face beaming at me through “T”. It is an honor to share this No-Holes-Barred Glorious Broad I had the good fortune to spend time with. She is as fun and frisky as she is ferocious…

STAYING IN THE GAME: 11 Questions for Faith

WHO WOULD YOU CREDIT FOR THAT MOTIVATION – THAT ENGINE – THAT CONTINUES TO DRIVE YOU? 

My mother.  You work hard and you will get where you are going. Just keep going. That was my mother.

HOW DID YOU FREE YOURSELF OF THIS "EXPIRATION DATE" THAT IS EVERYWHERE IN OUR SOCIETY FOR WOMEN – BEAUTY IS OVER AT 45, OUR CAREERS AT 60... 

I'm not doing that. I don't have an expiration date. I will do what I CAN do when/where I can do it. So there it is...

DID YOU EVER HAVE TO HIT "RESTART" – A PERIOD OF COMPLETELY STARTING OVER?

No. I’ve never had to hit restart. I never stopped. When I had kids, there were certain media I could not work in…because I couldn’t put big canvases on the wall and paint a picture and stay in one place. So I worked smaller. I made dolls. I made sculpture. I can paint in water colors – yeah, I can paint on pads. But – I’m working. All the time. 

YOU DIDN'T QUIT YOUR "DAY JOB" AS AN EDUCATOR UNTIL YOU WERE 41. NOW, THAT'S PERSISTENCE...

Well, it took me until the 80s, when I was in my 50s, before things got really good and I was able to live off my art. And that’s because I stayed in the game and had so many wonderful people who were supportive and helped me to reach my goals, like Robert Newman at my first gallery. I will never forget him…

WHY?

He was the first gallery I had ever been in, The Spectrum Gallery. Art was HUGE in the 60s – one piece filled the wall – and I was the only one working smaller and more political. He wanted me to just do what I was doing – but let’s see what would happen if you get bigger. He gave me the keys to his gallery when he closed it to the public and said – here’s your studio for the summer. That’s when I did Die, my first really big painting – and The Flag Is Bleeding – with all those people running and fighting –what was going on in the 60’s on the street and… the U.S. Postage stamp Commemorating the Advent of Black Power. 

I was there when they said Black Power. I thought...wow...when have you ever heard of power and black used in the same sentence. It was a fantastic time to be alive and I was so glad that I used that time to record it.

WHAT'S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU'VE TAKEN IN YOUR LIFE?

Being an artist! If I had known the problems of being an artist, what you have to go through and how HARD it is, I wouldn’t have done it. And that would have been a mistake I now know. But it took everything…

IF YOU WERE TO CHOOSE A GLORIOUS TRIBE TO LIVE WITH – WOMEN YOU ADMIRE – WHO WOULD THEY BE?

I am gonna start with Hillary. She is brilliant! And needs to be President…and Louise Bourgeois, Selma Burke, Elizabeth Catlett, Louise Nevelson…I had been to her house. There was no furniture that I can remember – it was all sculpture. All of these women were very very powerful, very inspiring.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FEMINISM...

Let me tell you how I BECAME a feminist. I was involved with the black power projects. Of course I wanted to see black people get everything they deserve. And I was recognizing the fact that the art world was exceedingly racist and we were trying to open up the museums so that black artists were getting in. So, we were going into the Museum of Modern Art with the art coalition group to demonstrate against the fact that no black artists were there. When they closed off the streets from 6th to 5th Avenues because of the excitement, they would invite the men artists to come and sit around the table and – you know – talk about the “situation.” So I said – you know – this doesn’t make any sense. I am the one who has mostly engineered this demonstration – and yet – I am not even invited to sit around the table. They have no intention of inviting me to be in any shows if I can’t sit around the table and rap – so something is WRONG! The next demonstration I called was at the Whitney. And that one was to demonstrate against the fact that there were no women being shown in the Whitney biannual – and that – that was powerful! 

GB: GORILLA GIRL!!!

YOU'VE BEEN AN ACTIVIST FOR FEMINISM, FOR ARTISITS, FOR RACE...ARE YOU NOW AN ACTIVIST AGAINST AGE-ISM?

I live my life! And we’re not going away! We’re all over the place. We’re no longer just some little old person sitting in the corner. I just became a vegetarian this last year, taking 30 day challenges and feel wonderful. Bad food doesn’t taste good to me any more. How’s that…

And daily inspiration keeps me going. It’s what I thrive on. And people who inspire me. And ART – making art inspires me. I like coming up here and doing my work. And now I have this Quiltuduko… 

TELL US ABOUT THIS PROJECT YOU ARE WORKING ON...THIS QUILTUDUKO...

This is the project I am concentrating on now…because I have made so much art. Quiltuduko is my thing. LOVE it. I love to do it. it’s based on Sudoku.  I have more than sixty diagrams and thousands of beautiful images. They are good for people who are old and they are good for people who are young. It is about here and now. Keep that brain functioning and use the color and design for it. Now, we just need to spread the word more and get it OUT!

WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU WANT TO GIVE YOUNGER WOMEN OUT THERE?

Pass it on! So many people have done so many wonderful things for me and I have said to myself, well, what can I do for them. What I can do is pass it on – to somebody else. Make sure that the opportunities that I got extend to others. Be generous. Help people…not only maintain your success and achieve it – but pass it on…

GB: Let me get this straight: Faith wanted to take a break from writing and making art – and so she invented a game requiring over 60 visual diagrams and then wrote the music for it. And she has a new book out since I interviewed her on Amazon called “A Letter to my Daughter, Michelle Wallace.”  Now, I interviewed her a little more than a month ago. Ummm, what did YOU do today?

Faith is unstoppable and the Queen of all Glorious Broads. We adore her. You can learn more about Faith on her site faithringgold.com. Order Quiltuduko up on itunes http://goo.gl/03BnFG or google play https://goo.gl/Ns3e4F. Check out her philosophy on Quiltuduko, Life, Art on our little homage...

Faith in front of her one of her glorious Quiltudukos

Faith in front of her one of her glorious Quiltudukos

Describing her new project: Quiltuduko