by Ivy Wigmore
A few years back, Michelle Ridgway registered, with a rather uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm, for a course on the Romantic poets. She expected Hallmark-type romance: hearts and flowers and pledges of undying love. What she found, instead, was a group of passionate individualists that were fully engaged with the natural world and the life of the senses. Hedonistic, vibrant, and dedicated to self-expression, the movement’s sensibility resonated powerfully with Ridgway; she says that a very Romantic response to the “sublimeness of nature” is what guides her work even now.
Inspiration for Ridgway is typically visual. The artist says she notices patterns everywhere she goes and is very efficient at editing out extraneous bits that would detract from the image she’s trying to capture. A large work in progress, as yet untitled, reflects that proclivity. The image is somewhat like a topographical map, like our world seen from far above. Ridgway’s palette for this piece is her favorite one, familiar to Island-dwellers: dirt-road red commingles with tree-and-field green and the darkest blue of cold water. Still, a little glitz and sparkle enter into even this earthy colour combo. The dark blue vein running through the piece is outlined in gold and mica sparkles through the surface intermittently. The vein of blue, as well as island-like patches throughout the piece, comes from handmade paper that the artist has manipulated until its shape pleases her. Underlying all is green, and above that a series of glazes for a translucent effect. The glitter, chosen to evoke movement, lends an aura of mystery to the natural-world effect of the piece, and evokes the wild energy of a world on fire.
Ridgway says that her work is increasingly a reflection of her personal vision and less and less affected by any external influences such as the desire to sell paintings. Years ago, she said, she did work that was more representational, pretty scenes that sold well. Still gratifying to create, but to some extent guided by an understanding of public demand. Now, however, Ridgway finds that the time constraints of being a working mother make it imperative that her creative time is purely that, comes solely from her own impulses. Life’s too short to be constrained by expectations.
Ridgway is equally committed to her day job, working with the Women’s Network in policies to deal with women’s issues of equality and economics. Both art and work are deeply meaningful to the artist. And then there are other goals to consider. Renaissance woman in the making, Ridgway wants, among other things, to learn to play the banjo and ride a horse. Time is always an issue on a daily basis, but also in the big picture: Ridgway doesn’t want to find herself eighty years old and realizing she hadn’t lived her life to the hilt. Instead, she’ll plunge in and immerse herself right now. Sensual and chaotic, sometimes messy and sometimes sublime, but always lived with passion: that’s life as it should be lived, according to Michelle Ridgway.