Glorious Broad #5: Faith Ringgold

 Photo by Bryant Norman

Photo by Bryant Norman

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

GLORIOUS PERSONA: A No-Holds-Barred Glorious Broad

GLORIOUS QUALITIES: Persistent, Creative, 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:

I don’t buy expiration date — as a woman — as an artist. I will do what I can do when, where I can do it. So there it is...

GB: Faith's fierce, determined, beautiful face beckoned 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 spirit that clinched me 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 wrote her that very same night asking for an interview and immediately got back the response: “Let’s do it.”

We met in her spacious studio — walls filled with art, sculpture, exhibits she was orchestrating. 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, for all things old jazz. She told me a story of her move to Jones Road in New Jersey, where she still lives. It was a story of racism she had never experienced before. She came from Harlem and 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 her beaming through “T.” It is an honor to share this No-Holds-Barred Glorious Broad I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon with.

STAYING IN THE GAME: 9 Questions for Faith

WHO DO YOU CREDIT FOR YOUR DRIVE?
My mother.  You work hard and you will get where you are going. Just keep going. That was my mother.

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 … so I worked smaller. I made dolls. I made sculpture. 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 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 — 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.

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 should have been 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. 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... they would invite the men artists to come and sit around the table and — you know —  talk about the “situation.” Now, I was the one who had mostly engineered this demonstration, and yet, I am not even invited to sit around the table...  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 FOUGHT FOR FEMINISM, AGAINST RACISM, SEXISM ... WHAT ABOUT AGEISM?
At this point, I just live my life! And we’re not going away! 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 fabulous. Bad food doesn’t taste good to me any more. How’s that from a former junk food lover ...   .

TELL US ABOUT THIS PROJECT YOU ARE WORKING ON...THIS QUILTUDUKO...
It’s an app I designed based on Sudoku. Wrote the music for it and  have more than sixty diagrams and thousands of beautiful images. They keep that brain functioning and use the color and design for it.

WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU WANT TO GIVE YOUNGER WOMEN OUT THERE?
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 — 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.”  Ummm, what did YOU do today?

Faith is GB's Queen. That simple. You can learn more about her on her site faithringgold.com.

Describing her new project: Quiltuduko