Bruce Riley is one of those cool cats who you just want to hang out with all afternoon at an outside café drinking something hard and cool, eating tacos and talking about the mysteries of this crazy thing called life. To the contrary, when Bruce and I met, we were inside in The Commons, not drinking or eating, but we were talking about some of the mysterious aspects of this thing called the artist’s life.
Bruce is a Cincinnati native but now lives up the road a bit in Chicago. He still comes down to Cincy regularly to visit family. This time, however, he was in town for his show opening at the Miller Gallery in Hyde Park. Do yourself a favor and see his awesome and amazing paintings. The show is currently running until June 25.
Accompanied by his wife, Kelly McKaig, and sister Brenda Campbell, Bruce was gracious to spend some time with me and share his story and some sound advice to the upcoming generation of young artists.
Riley attended the Art Academy during the mid 70’s. He did not graduate but did take classes only when they were paid for by someone else. He saw early on that educational debt was crushing to young artists. When not in school, he would use his own money to rent a studio and continued working on his own. The impression I got was that he was grateful for the structure academics, but the real learning came in doing things on his own – a rebel with a cause you might say.
In Bruce’s view to be an artist is to simply do the art. Experiment. Learn. Make mistakes. Become the expert. When possible love. Expand your view by reading, talking to others and never, ever stop doing the craft. In his experience, an artist really does not come into their own until the age of 35. Bruce states, “When one works hard at ones art, that individual will have a killer skill by the age of 35. You start really finding your own voice.”That is when the consistently working artist reaches the threshold of having a recognizable name.
He describes his day as being beautifully boring. He gets up around 6 AM, putters around the house for a bit as he chases away the night’s slumber with a cup of coffee, then off to his studio which is across the street.
While in the studio, he focuses in on the work. Riley said, “In the work ideas come and go. Ideas are the goo that mutates into the next awareness. This is the stuff that comes up when you are consistently working.” For him, and probably for most prolific and successful artists, ritual, routine and discipline is what drives the momentum to keep creating. Not to say that from time to time, inspiration is just not going to show up for the day, but overall he goes to work daily.
Additional advice Riley has for the emerging artist is to take risks. Physically. Mentally. Financially. He didn’t pay attention to conventional wisdom along the way. To him it did not make sense to work at a “day” job that sucked all of your creative energy 40 plus hours a week only to make just enough money to live. This version of living renders the artist to be a weekend warrior. He was not interested in that scenario. He KNEW he was going to make his living as a working artist.
And he does by creating and selling is art so that he can afford his materials, studio and the beautiful boring life he has with his wife in Chicago. After all to sell and share your art is the goal-right?
To see the latest work by Bruce Riley, go to the Miller Gallery in Hyde Park. Click here to watch a documentary short on Bruce Riley and his work.