Tanya Ragir was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. By age fifteen she was honing her skills in drawing and sculpting the human figure. Her studies in anatomy even included sketching cadavers at the USC medical center. Ragir also studied many forms of dance: modern, jazz and ballet. Her dance background continues to inform Ragir’s sculpture practice. Ragir’s sculptural work is internationally collected and resides in permanent museum collections as well as private collections. Her artwork has ranged from classical to avant-garde and is always evolving in response to her life. The female form is a constant presence in her art as is movement. Different bodies of work have explored the expansion of feminine energy in different directions, both internal and external, personal and allegorical.
1. What’s your strongest memory of childhood?
Being in a home that everyone wanted to come to. With parents who were fierce advocates for both their children and for social justice. It was a safe place to grow up. Everyone was welcome. I was studying the Geneva Accords against the War in Vietnam and we marched together as a family. Kids who went awol had a place of shelter. It was a vibrant place of art and music. kids and adults were in community. I remember laying under the piano listening to my mother play. We were involved with Traditional Indian Land and Life committee ( the govt. breaking treaties with Native Americans) so chiefs would come to the house – Listening to Pete Seger and Harry Belafonte and the Weavers, going to ballets and Folklorico, Art materials everywhere. Both my brother and I were encouraged to do what we loved at a level of excellence.
2. What was your first memory of making art?
I never didn’t make art. The home I was born into was full of materials that were provided for us as children. I didn’t think of it as art-making. We just “made art.” My mother was a concert pianist. Her younger brother was an architect and a sculptor. My father was an industrial designer and a mechanical engineer. It was the world I was surrounded by. I picked up materials and made work. I danced. I played guitar. I played piano. Both my brother and I followed our passions and pursued them. I never knew from a very early age whether I would sing, dance write sculpt or draw. I actually don’t know whether there’s only “one kind of art we’re meant to make,” and that was a crisis I remember asking my mother about when I was around 8 years old. As I’ve known so many artists over the course of my life, It seems to me, (unless one is a savant, like Mozart) most are gifted in many art forms. I know I have been. Ultimately sculpture embraced the most of who I am , while being informed by music, dance poetry….
3. What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I’ve been fortunate to find work within the art world that’s allowed me to be my own patron. For many years, when I was young, I sculpted mannequins. Would that qualify as a job other than being an artist? No. I’ve never had any jobs other than being an artist. For me, there has never been a “plan B.” What that’s meant for me is that every job I’ve ever taken has not only enabled me to support my art practice, but has given me the freedom to separate creative intention from making work to the market. From my twenties, I found other ways to use my craft within the sphere of the sculptural market to earn a living and support my family. For 20 plus years, I sculpted mannequins and became one of the top mannequin sculptors in this country. I was told by fine art “authorities” to never reveal that the mannequins were supporting my art practice and my family. Now, in retrospect, I see the absurdity of that. That experience was akin to working in an atelier. I was able to sculpt a life-size figure without attachment, to let it go, and discern the difference between craft and voice, which only served to advance my own art practice. I think it’s like playing scales on the piano, if you’re a concert pianist. It was my foundational work. You learn to tie your shoe and then you walk and don’t think about it. You have it in your hands. Because of those 20 years, I can make a female figure in two weeks.
4. How would you best describe your practice?
Letting, not making. Many, many years of foundational, and then… letting, not making. What else can I say? I’m in the studio every day, early until late. I continue to explore different materials. Everything I make comes from personal experience, I don’t give a f*#k what anybody else is doing or making. Everything I make comes from a deeply personal place.
5. What’s integral to the making of your work or your being an artist?
I need a space and time. I also need music; it’s the food of the soul. Right now, as I’m processing great loss in my life, to be able to make art demands a deep trust in my own capacity, in my foundation as a human. I need to feel seen and safe. I need community, and I have it. I think there are some artists who can work in a void, but I can’t work in a void. I need to know that I’m held. Love and community are essential for my being an artist and an integral in the work I make.
6. What is your ideal day in the studio?
I come in, turn on the heat and the music. Usually, I’ve swept the night before and cleaned my palette, sprayed my pieces and wrapped them. I have my coffee, pull out my tools, and start working by 10 am, working as late as midnight. I start by unwrapping and spraying the sculpture. If I’m working with a model, she walks in at around 11. In a little while, we’ll pour some Prosecco, have some snacks, taking breaks as needed, always offering deeply personal things with each other. Other days, most days, I work alone… I listen to music, podcasts, take breaks for conversations on the phone, and work late into the night.
7. How do you choose the themes?
Sometimes, my themes choose me. Sometimes they’re brought to me, coming out of life experience. For example, with The Warrior Series, the first piece came to temperature in the kiln the night my father died. It was a saggar-fired piece. It was the first time, unbeknownst to me, that I’d started to work in a more unconscious way. Images would come to me that I didn’t fully understand. There was an angel wing, and I didn’t realize it at the time. The kiln shut off the exact same time my father died. Saggar-firing is an ancient technique, not dissimilar to raku firing, in which one buries the ceramics in a container with organic material, which fuses onto the bisque-fired ceramic and changes the color. What prompted me to choose that method, who knows. That’s what I mean… I started trusting. It’s “letting, rather than making.” The title of that piece ended up being Through the Fire. The series that followed was Hard Wisdom. In that series I moved away from permanence in my materials;( using driftwood, sycamore and birch leaves, found concrete and paper clay) perhaps in an understanding of the lack of permanence in life. I didn’t intend this work. It just happened.
8. To date, what is your most memorable piece?
If I had to pick one piece, I might choose Cradle, which is a tryptic, but the center of it exemplifies both “the contained” and “the container.” It’s a circular wall piece, and the circle is a theme I’ve revisited over and over again in my work. The piece is about the sacred feminine, about being cradled, and about being the cradle. God is a circle, whose circumference is nowhere, and whose center is everywhere. That’s what I was thinking when I made that piece. The Triptych unfolds like a map. I created it when I had my daughter.
9. What does being creative mean to you?
Art-making saves my life. It’s making form out of chaos. Working on something concretized, while often feeling untethered, offers me a sense of solidity.
10. What role does the artist have in society?
WTF would society be without art?
11. What are you trying to communicate with your art?
When someone has a visceral, emotional response to the work I make, it’s everything. Honestly, I don’t care if they can afford it or not, because the connection that’s made from one person to anther is everything. I’m trying to communicate something that goes beyond time, culture, gender, history, class, religion… It goes to a “heart-place.” I have issues about art and money, and sometimes give my art away, and am more and more committed to public work, because I believe that art should be accessible to everyone
12. Do you find the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
Over the years, I’ve found it sad that there’s not more community. One of the most incredible times for me was in college, when there was so much collaboration. I loved the community. Since then, in the past 40 years, I’ve really missed that community. I miss getting to know what other artists are doing, and having people to bounce ideas off, sharing process, and working together. Social media is a great way to have honest communication with artists all over the world. There is a level of trust (in a small niche) on social media, There are times I do wish I could have more of that in a person. But I want to add, that lonely, and alone are not the same thing. It’s essential for me to be alone…, and always has been. In as much as I am a “tribal, community- oriented, human being,..passionate about my children and those I love as I am about anything else” as my sweetheart said I must have time alone to work!13. What do you dislike about the art world?
I’ve always been in and out of the “flavor of the month” in the art world, and honestly, I don’t care. That’s not where art comes from. Sometimes I’m not old enough, Jewish enough, dark enough, or light enough. As a teacher, I can say that this is the only moment in time that we have our unique voice. We are here now, as ourselves. How will we express that voice? My kids are going to inherit a hell of a sculpture collection… As artists – and humans – our responsibility is to be true to our personal experiences
14. What superpower would I have and why?
To provide equal access to all human beings – to water, shelter, food, music, healthcare, education and art. To erase the part of human nature that is rooted in greed , power and corruption.
D2 Art and Tanya Ragir are collaborating with interior designer Jae Omar’s new project, Syan in to create 5 emerging muses that will welcome you in’s. The prompt is ‘ between heaven and earth’. These figures will gracefully grow and evolve. Tanya’s process begins by making 12″ maquettes that act as her sketches. As she moves up in scale, she ends her process by scanning the figures and 3D printing life size replicas.