Rhia with her recent installation,   Stair Gazing,   at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey

Rhia with her recent installation, Stair Gazing, at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey

Rhia Hurt is a fine artist currently based in New York City. She received her MFA in Painting at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2009 and has since shown her artwork in California, New York, Berlin, and Toronto. Her work is in private collections throughout the United States. In addition to her studio art practice, Hurt is also the Executive Director of Brooklyn Art Space & Trestle Gallery, an arts organization in Brooklyn, NY. She currently has a solo installation at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey.

Can you describe your path as an artist – from where and when you began, until now?

My path has been an interest in art and interdisciplinary learning since I was young; in high school I excelled in English and Studio Art. I loved how personal stories in literature and art can teach so much about history, the natural world, power dynamics, and ourselves. I studied art and education in college and grad school, getting an MA in teaching and MFA in painting. I taught in public schools for 10 years before working in an arts organization and moving forward with a team to found a non-profit contemporary art gallery and educational program in Brooklyn. For me, art is a way to enter into and understand many topics and personal life experiences. It’s one of the richest ways to see many points of view on any subject, and does its work on multiple levels, intellectual, emotional, and physical. I have a vision for creating community around art making and observing through my work at Trestle.

Star Bursts , 2016, acrylic and synthetic silk over wire, dimensions variable

Star Bursts, 2016, acrylic and synthetic silk over wire, dimensions variable

What does a day or week in your professional life look like?

Professional and personal get all mixed together in order for me to get things done. My days are spent trying to get out the door, sneaking in an email, making a phone call, going to work, meeting with staff members, writing more emails, getting my son from daycare, playing, making dinner, doing bedtime routine, and then doing more work. I can work on my personal art projects in stages while tending to Gray. I observe nature with him, walk, and make things by sewing art components while Gray plays with blocks, or playdough. Sometimes we draw and paint collaboratively, while I do color studies. Studio time and alone time are rare these days, but I soak it up when I can. On the plus side, this alone time is very productive because I’ve been thinking of what I want to do for days before I actually get in there.

But days are not all balanced and perfect. My colleague and mentor, Mel Prest, once told me, “Artists don’t usually live ‘balanced’ lives; or if they do, it’s not all balanced at the same time.” So, to me that means some days/weeks/months I’m mostly focused only on my work as an administrator, some days I’m trying to figure out my and my son’s health insurance situation, some days I’m trying to figure out how to get to the gym, some days I get one or two or three hours in the studio, some days I work on my website or announcement, research and read, some days I go see art, go do a studio visit, or take an hour or two at home to pay my own bills, etc. I try to make sure there are things included in every day that “feed me” and inspire me.

What do you do to promote your work and get opportunities? What are some challenges you've overcome in expanding your audience?

Make work and talk to people. Invite people I admire to my studio. Promoting is not my strong suit. Making work that excites me is where I really want to spend my time. I love color, organic forms, the ability for my process to shift and surprise me. In my latest work, I create wire forms and sew canvas to them and paint both two dimensional and three dimensional structures. The forms are related to nature and the body.

Coalescence Cascade,  Acrylic, canvas over wire. Approx 27 x 60 x 5 inches

Coalescence Cascade, Acrylic, canvas over wire. Approx 27 x 60 x 5 inches

I think momentum comes into play because work comes from work, as many artists (and other creative people) before me have noticed and said. Artists I’ve met with similar interests and values tend to share opportunities and I do too. It’s so great to be able to support fellow artists. So, again, I think the space to make work (mental and actual space) and a community of other like minded professionals is what keeps momentum going.

One challenge is finding an audience since I am not often thinking of that when I make the work. Over time the right people sort of find each other through looking and doing research, like going to see art exhibitions, following artists on social media, etc. My intended audience hasn’t ever really been collectors, but more other artists and art spaces I like. However, I have had a couple of collectors find my work through exhibitions and word of mouth. I currently have a show at The Visual Art Center of New Jersey. The assistant curator there, Katherine Murdock, saw my work in a mailer from another show I participated in and scheduled a studio visit, which led to this show. I think the best way to get out there is by trying out different avenues when opportunities become available. Over time, I’ve learned that I don’t need to say yes to everything (especially with time constraints). But I do say yes to participating in things when I believe in the project and the people involved.

Red Earth,  Acrylic, canvas over wire. Approx 36 x 40 x 8 inches.

Red Earth, Acrylic, canvas over wire. Approx 36 x 40 x 8 inches.

What is a major goal you have set for yourself in the past year that you accomplished? How did you do it?

Keep making work and finding exhibition opportunities despite a challenging schedule with work and personal life. I have to do it or I would go completely nuts. I do a little everyday, even if it’s just sitting for 10 minutes and putting paints in order by color. These sort of things actually make me happy and feel more balanced and ready to start a new project. Deadlines and encouraging artist friends (like Mel Prest, Arlan Huang, Melissa Staiger, Jean Rim, Katerina Lanfranco, Myra Kooy, Lorrie Fredette, and Austin Thomas for example), studio visits into other studios and inviting artists and curators to mine, and collective critique groups like MAW (started by Katerina Lanfranco and Clarity Haynes),  and Trestle’s open critique, have helped me stay connected when things have sort of felt out of whack.

“When I feel low about what I can’t get done, I remind myself that my experiences and efforts add up to something meaningful and important over time.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from managing all your projects?

Try to work smarter not harder. Well, right now it’s smarter and harder, but I hope to cut back on the harder part at some point. When I feel low about what I can’t get done, I remind myself that my experiences and efforts add up to something meaningful and important over time. Also, the payoff to some work doesn’t happen right away or in a linear fashion. I think that doing the work for a long time is the only way to see the effects.

And where is one of your favorite places to go to be inspired?

Hiking in the coastal redwoods of the Pacific Northwest. And walking/running near the beaches there. I also love going to see art in small contemporary art galleries, LES like Invisible Exports and Chelsea galleries like Cheim & Read, as well as going to The Whitney, The MET and other great institutions in NYC.

Wings , Acrylic, canvas over wire. Approx 36 x 120 x 5 inches

Wings, Acrylic, canvas over wire. Approx 36 x 120 x 5 inches