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Interview with Mo Ringey

March 2005

Known to insiders as the “Fridge Queen”, we caught up with mosaic artist Mo Ringey. Her moniker is as captivating as her inimitable mosaics. So just who is this mosaic artist?

Here, Mo speaks with Earth, Wind & Tiles about her unique style of creating mosaics using smashed hand-stained tempered glass.

One night in my studio I was thinking aloud over wine with friends, and I announced that I was going to "reupholster" a fridge in smashed glass. Immediately the project took on a life of its own. After searching dumps and flea markets and the papers for weeks, I finally found the perfect fridge right in the studio where I was subletting a space. It was waiting for me. Within weeks of that I was offered a larger studio in a high traffic area, and the fridge project flourished. I think the fridge got me the new space.

People stopped in regularly to watch its progress. A few strangers even dropped in, having heard of it. The fridge project became my identity for a bit. For a time, wherever I went, conversations were about the fridge. People seemed incredulous that I was serious about it. Then, when finished, it got itself invited to a number of galleries without my even lending a hand in that effort. It has quite a spirit.

I have met people who, after I tell them that I work in smashed glass and objects, say, "Oh! Are you the 'fridge queen'?" so I guess I am! It was a "que sera, sera" thing.

At one show the original owners of the fridge came by and recognized it as the one they had abandoned in our building years ago. It was a joyful reunion. We have relationships with our appliances. We just don't consciously realize this. These are not the relationships which perplex and confound us and that we discuss with our therapists. ;-) This is the dialogue of everyday life, for even the most alternative of us has a domestic life that we share with our things. The fridge is an homage to domesticity, change, art, and redirected purpose.

I understand that you originally studied general arts and later became involved in the web industry only to pursue mosaic art instead. How did you first become interested in creating mosaics?

I have always studied art in a random and meandering way. I have taken classes in many mediums and places from university to the present. I am still taking classes, and I still paint.

For my "real" job, however, I worked as a designer, first print and then web. When I got home from work most nights though, I immediately changed into my overalls and started painting and sculpting. I smashed wine bottles and made sculptures. I also painted televisions. People would see that I had no TV in my apartment and would bring me one thinking I must need one. So I'd just paint them because they were not aesthetically pleasing to me. And someone else would come by and love the new TV, and I'd give it to them because I don't watch TV. Or people would give me old wineglasses, so I'd paint them and then at dinner someone would fall in love with them, and I'd give those away. I was an accidental recycler of objects from way back.

One day I found my car window smashed outside my apartment in Boston, and the pile of glass glittering in the sun was so stunning that I picked it all up and took it up to my apartment to experiment with. I was so fascinated with the glass that I forgot to move my car to a secure garage. Leaving my car with an open smashed window all night apparently tempted some opportunist to come by and take my car stereo. I didn't mind.

I didn't really think of myself as a mosaic artist. But it seems that is the category my work falls into, it being an additive process and all that. And so it is. Sometimes life takes its own course.

Many artists are inspired by others’ work. Are there any artists—mosaic or otherwise—whose artwork has influenced you?

Kandinsky, Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh are among my favorites as well as Marcel Duchamp, Gustav Klimt, Isamu Noguchi, and Paul Klee.

A lot of these artists, like Klimt, have elements to their work which are about pieces of a whole, reminiscent of a mosaic process perhaps. Duchamp is all about objects and humor and unconventional media and readymade objects that cause thought on the part of the viewer. Noguchi is about the perception of space and the continuum of existence. This is how I feel about objects: memory transformed into repurposed sculptural works that captivate and perplex. Fridge as curio cabinet lined with flocking like a jewelry box; memory as precious, tangible, impossibly big, and impractical yet captivating.

I learned more about mosaic art only after I accidentally began making mosaics. I am moved by the mosaics of Ravenna. They are about history and extraordinary craftsmanship and beauty.

Your pieces usually consist of a base layer of plate glass on which you adhere a layer of hand-stained tempered glass. How did you arrive at your present manner of working? Was it an evolutionary process or did you wake up one day and say, “Eureka! I’m going to stain glass inch by inch with eyedroppers and smash it to bits and then glue them all onto another piece of glass”?

It started with whoever now owns my old car stereo, smashing the glass for me. I then took a trip to my art supply store and found some glass stains and started the process of staining. It took a while to get the process to where it is now. In the early days I went through a lot of bandages. Now I have a relationship with the glass and find I can handle it without getting cut. It's like I relate to and respect the glass. I see habits and patterns in the smashed sheets and feel a familiarity that is the result of past associations.

Tempered glass smashes into predictable shapes and certain shard types, some of which are like tiny apple cores that are barely visible and cut you so you really bleed. I learned to work with jewelry pliers to handle these pieces and to wear respirators when I stain. I wear shark-feeding gloves from a marine supply outfit in Seattle that come up my whole arm and are impenetrable because I use an optically clear adhesive that is an acrylated urethane and is very dangerous. I learned just how dangerous when I had to be taken to the local ER and then spent months with bandaged fingers and prescriptions for steroids. The question I am most often asked by other mosaic artists is, "What do you use for adhesive?" and then I feel compelled to warn them that this stuff penetrates nitrile, vinyl, and just about every other safety glove.

So please explain why you so unceremoniously smash the glass that you’ve just spent so many hours lovingly staining.

It’s actually rather ceremonious. People always want to watch this part. And there's a good bit of preparation. I have to wrap the glass in canvas yet let one corner peek out for hammer-on-glass contact. I have to wear gloves and safety glasses and weigh down the edges so that the canvas doesn't fly up (the glass explodes sideways when it is smashed). Then the glass may smash on the first tap or it may take dozens of taps. It seems to have stage fright in that when a crowd gathers, it won't smash. And no matter how many pieces I smash I still do an involuntary jump and shout each time it explodes. So between the suiting up, wrapping of the glass, the spectators, and the involuntary jig at the point of explosion, it's rather ceremonious. I'd like to have mimes passing hors d'oeuvres and a champagne fountain for the next smashing. Maybe also opera music and police blowing whistles and floor length gowns!

Curiosity prompts me to ask what made you choose functional items such as old refrigerators and diner stools to mosaic. How have these pieces been received by art galleries and by the public?

Our objects and furniture have a domestic language all their own. And we interact with them in a language of our own, of which we are unaware. These things also serve as bookmarks to certain places and times in our past, much as a song or a photograph. Completely changing the aesthetics and function of an old fridge from something you might see abandoned at the dump with its door torn off into a glittering and beautiful curio cabinet surprises the viewer. And most often surprises are happy and inspiring things.

And the fridge is always well received. People circle it, open and close the door (old fridges make the most magnificent noise as they click open and shut. It's almost regal!), and touch the flocking inside and open the flocked freezer door.

The diner stools have been wet sanded with diamond pads and are perfectly smooth so you can sit on them and spin around. I started with a 50 grit pad and methodically worked my way up to 3000 grit.
Although I will never tackle a project like that again--I spent 5 nights on the back loading dock wearing a hefty bag, safety goggles, and fighting with a 13 pound [5.9 kg] piece of handheld equipment spewing water, trying to control its course over curved surfaces. I'll never spray flock again either. The tiny particles got through my respirator. So some of these pieces are truly one of a kind.

So this leads to me your upcoming events, the first of which is that of Artist-in-Residence at The Art Complex Museum in Duxbury, MA. What will you be creating there that people will be able to come and watch?

I plan to create a piece as a gift to the museum. I haven't actually "seen" it yet. I need to "see" a project before I can begin. Sometimes I see it in a dream or in a painting. It will have to be something I can start and finish in one month, so there's a challenge. And since it is to be a museum piece, it has to be exciting and flawless. I'd also like to make it touchable. I always want to touch art myself, so I'd like to be able to make art that others can touch. I will host a reception at the end for the public to come and view my gift to the museum.

Thank you, Mo, for your time and for allowing us to present your amazing creations to our readers!

Below are some of Mo’s upcoming shows. For more information, check out her website

May 26-June 30, 2005
The Art Complex Museum, Artist-in-residence
189 Alden Street
Duxbury, Massachusetts (USA)
Open Wed-Sun, 1-4 pm
Tel. +1 (781) 934-6634

Mo will be working in the first floor studio during museum hours on display for the public to come and watch. She will be creating a piece as a permanent gift to the museum, and there will be a reception for the public once it is completed.

July 5-30, 2005
Watkins Gallery

142 Main Street (second floor)

Northampton, Massachusetts (USA)
Tel. +1 (413) 585-1644

This is a 3 artist show titled "Kaleidoscope". The opening reception is July 8.


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