Gallery Girl meets Ripsy May

“This person could really do with a necklace or some boobs” – Ripsy May

Artist, musician and zine-creator Ripsy May could be described as a triple threat. Her artwork enchants with the endearing yet mischievous energies her child-like characters emit, while her silky smooth voice provides the basis for songs that touch on love and heartbreak. Gallery Girl met with Ripsy to talk art, music and the female form.

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Angel Boy, Ripsy May

Each of the personas in Ripsy’s paintings seem to tell a story. The products of her imagination, their larger than life features and vibrant personalities shine through heavy layers of paint, pastel and pen. “I find painting an escape so it’s a way to explore what goes on in my head and put it on a page”, says Ripsy, “I don’t get too cerebral about it or try and make up narratives. It’s all very intuitive.”  Sometimes the works look like Chagall’s flying lovers, especially Angel Boy, who seems to float across a page of a sumptuous midnight blue. Whereas other images look like caricatures with exaggerated lips and noses, begging the viewer to ponder what their story is.

Ripsy’s work could probably be best described as playful, which is exaggerated by the way that a certain part of the female anatomy seems to repeat itself again and again across her art. “I draw boobs a lot because it’s my favourite part of my body”, she explains, “I remember looking at art as a kid and seeing naked women and feeling like their form was beautiful but not necessarily sexual. I love taking something like boobs and drawing them all over the place because it sort of separates the sexual side and you are simply looking at the form and I like form.” In fact, Ripsy even uses them as an accessory. “I love that boobs can be saggy, up, down, round, and can add a whole other level of composition and texture to a painting”, she adds, “For example, sometimes I just use it as a tool in that way and I’ll be like ‘Hmmm this person could really do with a necklace or some boobs.” Her characters are certainly body positive: “Sometimes I draw a man, and I think the image would look better with boobs so then the man has boobs and then people think it’s a woman. Sometimes people ask me why does the man that I’ve drawn have boobs, and I say ‘It’s supposed to be a woman’, and sometimes it’s both. It’s fun because it’s taking ‘sex’ or ‘sexuality’ and not really labelling it as one thing, and letting it be whatever you want it to be.”

These characters that Ripsy creates also transcend into her music. The covers of her EPs consist of multicoloured beauties fronting the music that lies within.  “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing or making music”, she says, “Being more public about my art was born out of the fact that I was looking for an accompaniment to my songs, whether it be the music videos or the single artwork and realising how much of the control I wanted.” That said, Ripsy started to paint more intensely after becoming ill. An infection was spreading to her brain and she had to be in bed to heal, something which prompted her to paint more than she ever had before. Bizarrely, all of the faces she painted during this time had no ears. “It was as if I had subconsciously cut off the ears and was asking for a deep silence”, she explains, adding, “Being in the studio months previously I think my body was craving for quiet. When I’m painting the best always comes when I’m in total silence, it’s very meditative for me.” And, in an odd way, looking at Ripsy’s work is meditative too, her characters may look wacky and weird, but they give off an atmosphere of kindness and honesty that is warm and comforting.

As though a rainbow just exploded over the paper, the majority of Ripsy’s artworks are vibrant, energetic and full of feeling. Oil pastels are her favourite medium: “You can turn them on their side and they come out with the most amazing textures”, she says, “It’s the medium I use when I create pieces with the most colour.” Despite this though, the overly happy faces that emerge from the colourfully saturated works are often associated with pain. “Colour and pain I think go hand in hand”, she adds, explaining why sometimes she spends months and months doing nothing but painting to get through a period of emotional turmoil.

In addition to her art and music making, Ripsy has also created her own zine, full of poetry, collage and painting. The written aspects to the publication were born out of her love of writing, which in turn inspired Ripsy to write songs. “The zine actually came about when I was already years deep in making tunes and it was at a time when I felt super uninspired”, she says, “I had no idea what to write about so I pulled out loads of poems that I had written in the past and decided to make something out of them that wasn’t music related.” The process of putting the zine together allowed Ripsy to bring back work she had previously left behind. “I definitely want to make more”, she adds, “It would be really cool to do volumes so I can look back at each one like a chapter, almost like a personal diary.”

Most recently, Ripsy has released her song Colours of your eyes on 4:3 Boiler Room, and is going to put out the second part of her EP, with another project dropping at the end of the year. She also has upcoming exhibitions in London and Europe and will be performing more with her band this summer. So it seems that her characters will continue to draw people into their world for plenty of time to come.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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