Canvassing the Wilderness
Bob Ripley does not shy away from difficulty in the creation of his artwork, combining his love of nature with meticulously honed fine art techniques. “My medium is not typically noted for controlled fine detail and strong color, but I’d have to say that those are the hallmarks of my art,” he describes. The result of his dedication to this medium is a collection of true-to-life paintings of the wilderness and the creatures that occupy it.
The first affirmation of his artistic ability occurred when he was in elementary school, and a teacher asked him to paint the front windows of the school with a Christmas scene. He painted the insides of the windows using a non-permanent form of watercolor paint; he also had to paint the scene backward so it would look correct from the street. When he told his parents, they brought the whole family down to the school in their old Chevrolet to see the mural. “I remember I was so proud,” he recalls, “and it wasn’t too long after that when my dad got me my first watercolor set.”
While he was in high school, the United States entered the Vietnam War. Ripley was convinced by his father to join the Navy to avoid being drafted and forced to fight in the infantry. He attempted to join as an illustrator, but the military had other plans, so he was trained as a radar technician.
After serving in the Navy from 1969 to 1973, he came back to New York and enrolled at Syracuse University under the G.I. Bill. He chose the school based on its proximity to the Adirondack Mountains and other wildernesses. He graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
“My time in the Navy really transformed me as a student; after that experience, college was easy for me,” Ripley states. Following graduation, he worked at several different advertising agencies as an art director, finishing his career at the agency of Latorra, Paul, McCann. During this time, his career, despite its creative nature, cost him his freedom to focus on painting.
Upon retirement, Ripley picked up the paint brush and rediscovered his artistic ability. In his personal work, he paints only compositions made up of natural elements or people he has seen or experienced personally.
“I want to create my own compositions, not copy someone else’s. I need to have some skin in the game. By seeking out my own reference material I have the opportunity to find a unique scene or pose … there’s also an element of creative ownership that I feel leads to a better painting,” he says.
Ripley invests himself totally in each piece he works on, pushing himself not to settle for anything less than what he wants. “There’s sacrifice in the creation of my art. Most paintings I make are emotional roller coasters,” he describes, “I’ll often go from a deep satisfaction with a piece to a feeling of total despair and disappointment.”
By seeking inspiration and reference materials from nature and planning and arranging them in his own vision, he is able to convey an almost photographic image of the world around him.
“My ultimate goal as an artist is to capture and share a wild moment in the fragile beauty of the great outdoors,” he states. “From every painting I make, I come away with a better understanding of each creature or person and their place in the natural world.”