Lydia Ricci is an artist who transforms scraps from junk drawers, supply closets, and the occasional neighborhood trash can, into miniature collage-like sculptures. These "tiny tributes to times past," as she calls them, are made from paper, glue, broken staples, and the back-side of almost anything. Her Lilliputian pieces, including a pull out couch, a row of airplane seats and more, are currently on display at the Conduit Gallery in Dallas, Texas and in the Philadelphia International Airport.

Learn more about Lydia.

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FULL TRANSCRIPT: 

Passionistas: Hi and welcome to The Passionistas Project Podcast, where Amy and Nancy Harrington. Today we're talking with Lydia Ricci and artists who transform scraps from junk draws, supply closets, and the occasional neighborhood trashcan into miniature collage like sculptures.

These tiny tributes to times past as she calls them are made from paper glue, broken staples, and the backside of almost anything. Her Lilliputian pieces, including a pullout couch, a row of airplane seats, and more are currently on display at the conduit gallery in Dallas, Texas and in the Philadelphia international airport.

So please welcome to the show Lydia. Ricci.

Lydia: Thank you very much.

Passionistas: Lydia, what are you most passionate about?

Lydia: Making lots of different things and I'm goal oriented, so yeah, getting a lot of things created, I would say is what I'm most passionate about. That could be a meal or a piece of artwork. It doesn't always have to be in the form of finished art piece.

Passionistas: But let's talk about the art. How did you get started and how did your passion translate into your art and always made something on the side?

Lydia: I mean, if I was at a job, I still made a little collage to capture the day, or I used to do print making at night, so I've always needed some other outlet during the day to feel completely accomplished. Even though my day to day life is graphic design, which I would say is a very creative outlet as well. But I don't feel like it was ever enough. You know, I'm working for clients, I'm getting their vision accomplished, so I would make something that would kind of document, I guess it's equivalent to someone creating a journal.

But I would typically always documents certain moments in time, maybe in the past or the future perhaps, but often in the present. And so then I don't know why collaging was always something I maybe I don't have enough confidence in just drawing straight, you know, just pen and ink or you know, sketching. So I always kinda created a 2D collage, you know, just a flat piece of work, some glue ripped up, this, that. And then all of a sudden making them 3D.

I was trying to capture my fear of driving. I moved to the suburbs after living in New York. I lived in San Francisco for about 10 years. I lived in Pittsburgh for four years and I lived in Brooklyn for five years and so it was time to move out to the burbs and still take the train and stuff. But I had to drive once a day and literally I'd wake up in the morning and think about driving.

I’d drink coffee and think about driving. I think about, you know, a young kid, I'm nervous about my young son, but I was obsessed with health, you know? Okay, so I'm going to go in the right lane, I'm going to turn here. It was crazy to kind of deal with that.

I made cars, cars that were relevant in my life, so I made the green Dodge. I think it's one of the first cars I ever remember being driven around in and I don't know if I have good memories about it or bad memories about it. It's just a quintessential car in my life and it took me, you know, a few weeks to make this a little bit during the day between projects and things like that. I carried it home and I remember I put it on the mantle and I'm thought I'm going to make another one.

And I did. And so that kind of kicked off making things. But then I realized I was making them out of all of these artifacts that I kind of had collected two or three boxes of that. Then it turned into four or five boxes that turned into half of my studio now. So these boxes became very valuable medium for the projects.

Passionistas: Describe your art for someone who hasn't seen it.

Lydia: They’re small sculptures of everyday objects, kind of the stuff you forget that's around you. It's been around you for, you know, it could be today, it's right next to you or it was 20 years ago. 

And what I realized too, it's in all the photos that you have in all around your house, it's this object that in many ways was around for more memories maybe than some people. So there are these tiny objects that can fit in your hand. They're not completely in miniature. You can see they're all different scales and they're, for lack of a better word, collage assembled of the ephemera, which is a word I've just learned in the past few years from boxes and old paper, old bits and bobs, old tape, old tickets, staples. I don't want you to really see what the object is made up, but I believe it holds a bit more memory because it is made of the materials that big also been in our lives for just as long. And that you would probably throw away.

Passionistas: So did the materials relate directly to the objects? Do you use something from a record album to make a record player?

Lydia: No, I really don't want you to get caught up in necessarily what it's made of. I think it helps me like an old mattress was made out of really old utility bills and there was something about this, you know, I mean even buying a good mattress and like what you think to spend your money on and the mundane this of being an adult. And paying bills and buying your first bed in time decided if you want to queen size, you know, I'm just mattresses through your lives. So in a way it has a lot of layers of meaning, but I don't want it to be a trickster aha.

Like, 'Oh, I see that staple making that.' I don't want you to get too lost in what the medium is because it really, your eyes really do meld everything together. But for me it's what drives the whole. The materials really have to be right and not just in surface and sheen and all that.

So I have this typewriter that, I think it's from the sixties or seventies I don't know. But all the keys in there are floppy disks. You can't tell. No passerby can tell. But I know. And it really felt right in the process of making it, the floppy disk went into the typewriter and you know, the evolution of how we communicate and how that changed.

Passionistas: So why tiny art? Why did you decide to do the scale that you did?

Lydia: It took about three or four years and someone said, Oh, you make miniatures. It never even occurred to me. Never even occurred. I had no idea I was making small objects, I was just making things and I think I was making them so they felt comfortable to me and they don't relate and scale to each other at all. Every object is at the scale that's right for it. Okay. And I don't know what that is. It's just what's right.

And sometimes I'll even make something and then be halfway through it and realize it's too big and I'll literally have to chop it in half and start essentially start over. And that's just my own editing process. But I don't, no why? They're the scale. They are again, to feel some control over them and to relate to them in a maybe a more intimate way, but it was not conscious.

Passionistas: And how do you decide what your subject is going to be?

Lydia: I walk a lot and I think a lot and I think about what's happening today or yesterday or what I'm obsessing about or working through. And then I realized that there's an object that kind of summarizes and it's typically something I've been wanting to make. So it's like, it's so strange how the two worlds collide. I made a can opener recently. I was coming home from a work day, it was summertime and the kids were on their bikes and it's new, you know, they're out on their bikes in the street now and they're wearing their helmets and that. But I could see it, I'm out behind them.

I think we were going to go return something at the library and I'm like, ‘Oh shit, there's cars. And it just, the one son didn't look enough my opinion enough. And I realized I am obsessing about of course cars and these bikes in the fact that they're getting to this next level.

And I made a can opener that next day mainly because my whole thought with can openers is how dangerous they were. And you have to be careful. And that's what everyone said when you picked it up out of the drawers. Like, ‘Oh, you know, you might cut yourself, God forbid.’ And it was that same thing about just getting used to using things more independently and independence in general.

Passionistas: How often do you make a sculpture and how long do they take?

Lydia: There's no set schedule. I really get grumpy if I haven't had the opportunity to make one in a couple weeks. Okay. That's the longest I can really go is two or three weeks. I actually think I get a little depressed, but I also get nervous, like I forgot how to do it.

So it's this weird process that happens every couple weeks where it's like, if I've gone too long, I'm insecure in this. And so I had to sit down. And so then once I start, it goes very quickly. But an element that takes a lot of time is finding the right material for the objects.

So it's like if I have the memory, I start feeling that elated, feeling like I know what I'm gonna make, I'm gonna make the toilet, I'm going to make the toy. And I have to even tell myself, ‘Oh, that's so dumb that you're making a toilet.’ But you know, it really makes sense because that's about, you know, and I'm kind of going through that dialogue and realizing no, it's right. It's right for right now. Like it's time to make the toilet. And then I'm like, which toilet are you making? And I'm like, ‘Oh, I need to make the blue toilet’.

But then I don't know if I had the blue paper, I have to like find the blue paper in my collections cause I don't like to buy anything. It doesn't feel right to vine. But I'm like, I've got to have the blue paper in the thing and then if I want to make it that night, I'll even like go into my kid's room and like start looking through their stuff and they're like, you're not gonna rip anything of ours apart, are you? I'm like, ‘Oh no, no.’ You know, like I can get a little desperate by six o'clock cause I'm like, it's getting dark. And I, you know, I know the library gives some stuff for sale, something like that's free. So I'm kinda like, ‘Oh, I can go there, you know, and go to the basement.’ And you know, if I, I'm like no, I have to find it in my piles.

And once I get like kind of the basic amount of materials to get started, I would say it takes two or three days. It depending on how much time I can devote, I work mainly at night and it's not even efficient. But once I start, you can't do much else in my office cause it's a very messy process because again, I can't find the blue paper. So there's, everything has been destroyed.

Like sometimes you can open the door and then you know, there's a dog and a cat element and the kids get scared. They're like, are we allowed to walk in here? I'm like, yes, it's okay. It's a little safe. Or sometimes it's not safe because there's sharp things. So then it's two or three days, maybe four days of any free time. I just get up there and work and then when it's done I shoot it.

And that's a very satisfying part of it. Shoot it and go for a walk to figure out the words very succinctly because those are the words about the little writing that goes with them is as important as the piece itself. And then I clean up and I feel like, okay, now I have to think about the next one. So yeah, it definitely crescendos. I would say so, yeah, every two weeks, but about a three or four day stretch for each piece.

Passionistas: We read that you would go shopping for materials in your dad's house. Can you tell us about that?

Lydia: We grew up in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and it gets moved to the house when we were five. My dad's still in the house. It was a huge, it's, you know, it's a suburban house and you know, by a mall, but he really has held onto a lot, whether it's in the garage or the ad, it used to be everywhere.

He's recently done a major overhaul of cleaning. His girlfriend moved in after, I think they'd been dating 25 years. My mom died when I was in college and we cleaned up some stuff. But you know, there also wasn't a major organizing figure in the household. There was more of a hoarding, you know, and someone asked me if they could call him a hoarder and would he be offended. And I said, not much offends my dad at all. I said, let's go on the sentimental hoarder. And it's true.

But once he caught on that what I was grabbing and he lives, you know, 20 minutes away he'll pop by and you know, there's a box of, I mean here's an old cigar box with your mouth guard and some egg containers from the refrigerator and a hole punch, you know, and a box of tax records and he'll just drop it off. So he kind of understood pretty quickly that I would take anything and I think that since it wasn't going to waste, he would drop it off and that kind of helped him clear out his house a little too. But there's good stuff there. There's still good stuff there in the attic.

Passionistas: A lot of your stuff seems to have a retro vibe. It is that conscious?

Lydia: It's funny. Again, that's something else someone pointed out to me and I look around, I'm like, Oh yeah, I guess I've spent more time with those objects, but I'm not necessarily capturing a retro memory with them. So I feel like they feel very present to me. Well the dishwasher, it's a more retro dishwasher, but that's, you know, just all about relationships and struggles and dynamics and stuff like that. So again, it's a very present memory with perhaps a retro.

And I did pick on all of green dishwasher so I could have gone more modern and you know the hairdryer that you put over your head, and again, I'd still go under those to get my hair colored, but I did the retro one. I think they're just more attractive. Again. Yeah, I think I've seen them longer without even realizing I had been looking at them longer. I'm not restricting myself to that. When I do go looking and I searched for an example, I do kind of pick something with a little more character. I don't know if I'll ever do a cell phone, never say never.

Passionistas: So you photograph in front of white and then you also do little vignettes and you also do videos. So talk about that process and how that evolved.

Lydia: I always do a document on the white first to kind of put the succinct memory and it's the first time I, in my mind I've put the piece out there and then as I've lived with the piece longer, whether it be a movie projector or a box fan, I'll look up at them one day and realize, Oh that's the vehicle which will help me say this. Like today I'm going to use a phone for a few things. I've been talking to our friend and we were commenting on how quickly an hour goes and then I was saying, ‘Oh, I'm going to talk to you.’

And I was just thinking about this time of communicating on the phone and you know how sometimes it goes by quickly and sometimes it doesn't and we don't do that as much anymore. So the white starts and then the backdrops kind of fill in the bigger memories or when I want to tell a little bit more like you said, of a vignette or a bit more of the story and I realize motion is important.

The emotion can do something. That reading or just seeing, it's sitting there can't like you put that mattress, you move that onto the floor next to a TV. We've all been there. You know, versus on the box spring you roll that AV cart  in versus just seeing the movie projector. It's a visceral reaction. That's a path of exploration that I'm really trying to go down much further is figuring out the movement and engagement and the kinds of stories I can keep telling. Cause again it's a cash register. Like there's only so much movement there can be around it. Does it need to be this ornate scrap made cash register to tell the story? Why not just show a picture, you know? So what is it about these objects that I could zoom in on or use them to kind of tell the story in a way that wouldn't have been told another way?

So it's interesting. Yeah, the backdrops, you know, I'm telling the story, but I like to be universal. I want people to be able to relate to it and I kind of carve away of the too many descriptors so that it is more relatable, even though they're very personal, these anecdotes and moments, if there's just enough information there, we can all kind of travel together through the moment.

Passionistas: So you recently had a short film at the San Francisco film festival. Tell us about that.

Lydia: That was awesome. Okay. First of all, film festivals are damn fun. Okay. And there's free drinks and food. I'm a such a sucker for free food and drinks. It's insane. Free bag of God. It could be hand soap or a stupid breath mint and I am giddy. Okay? Giddy. And throw a pair of socks in there. Whew. It's also, I like going out to dinner too, and I'm a very good cook, but it's the simple things in life. So the film festival was fantastic. I did not realize how magical it would be to see, okay.

The film is essentially a culmination of many of the moments, you know, they're assembled together, but also if you haven't met before I open up the film, I'm like, okay, well no one knows me, so I can't just show these anecdotes because you know what? Some people can't tell that the objects are small, there's something kooky about their scale, but you can't tell. So there's something neat about them being miniature and that you can approach them in a different perspective. So I add some video of me making the objects, I show some moments of the scrap piles. But what I also had that I think is really interesting is I had to give a talk about my inspiration or something and I went through, my mom kept such good photo albums, amazing photo albums, and I have them all in my office.

So I'm going through to look for a picture of one of the cars. Well, I'm going through these photo albums, realizing half the things I documented are actually in these photos. Now granted I did not look at the photos and make them from there. But even to the point of the fish tank that our two journals were in. Okay. That my sister convinced me that my journal had died first, even though we never named them, never paid attention to them, but no one died. And of course it was mine. So I have a picture of her and I excited about this. I have so many pictures. I have the chase lounge, you know, but it was about the dog tippy, the dog sitting on it. So of course we have to document the lounge chair. We have put the car in the snow, the green Dodge, we have the car out front in the spring, you know, behind us. So these objects were with us all the time. So then I started putting some dialogue in it and it was horrendous.

So these friends that helped make this movie, they wrote a song. The title already of the movie was that I had made, was called, don't you forget about me? So they wrote a different song and I had been talking about how these objects are with us all the time, but we don't realize it. So it's a beautiful little song. It shows some of the photos where the objects are. But you would think that I saw the photo and made the object, and I'm going to tell you that it went opposite. I made the object and found the photos.

We even have a photo of the AV machine of my girlfriend and I, and there's an AV machine in the background. It's crazy. So anyway, the San Francisco film, the fact that it got selected and it was amongst all these other animations, it was amazing. It was like going to see awesome, inspiring animations and all of a sudden yours pops up in there. And it was really neat to see a huge vacuum cleaner skid across the screen. It was fantastic. And I did not expect that. I was like, Oh, I'll go. It'll be nice and it was magical.

Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington, in your listening to The Passionistas Project and our interview with Lydia Ricci. To see Lydia's incredible creations visit FromScraps.com. Now here's more of our interview with Lydia.

Passionistas: It's one thing to start making these sculptures for yourself and at home. It's another thing to get them in galleries all across the country. How did you do that? How has this become such a phenomenon?

Lydia: I would say I'm really at the beginning of that. I've gotten some nice feedback that I don't know. I will say one of my biggest helps and everyone's antisocial media. It's changed my life. I freaking love social media. I feel like I'm comfortable connecting with communities I would have never connected with. I've put myself out there in a way that I don't know if I would've ever been able to do that.

I don't think galleries would have embraced me. I'm not an artist artsy. I'm a little awkward in that world. I've gotten some lovely shows and opportunities and I'm hoping for more of that. But if that's not my path, at least these movies and these other way to relate to people and connect with people and show people my work and see theirs, I mean, cause everyone that follows, I follow that. You know, I'm like, I'm looking and I'm looking at what they do and I'm inspired.

I think that I would say my biggest help was social media and also not being too afraid of the imperfect and just be, you know, okay. Just put it out there and see what happens. I do think my work has gotten better, knowing what's better for social media versus what's better for a show and stuff, but to not think everything has to be so important and just say, ‘Oh, this is kind of goofy.’ Like I'm going to talk about how I had to put toilet paper on the seat and it got stuck. You know, like I'm going to put that out there today and see what happens. And people enjoyed it and it wasn't too lofty, but it was sincere. And I think that that connected with people, which has gotten me more lack of a better word audience, but also I would call it more of a community.

It's a community because people, when they get excited about something, like we all talk about, I think I put up a wheat bench and a spray bottle and I did some Windex and he probably get, you know, you can't spray mirrors with Windex, you know, and there was like a whole discussion on the best way to clean a mirror and it's with newspaper and Windex by the way. So yes, I have a show coming up in Dallas, Texas at the Honda at gallery and they reached out and I'm going to go to Dallas, Texas for the night. I've had one in New York with Marcel Jamey. I just was in Philadelphia at this huddle gallery with Brian, the guy that runs a Brian Jacobson. He and I, nine made my studio there for a month. I worked on site for a month and we called the show, come talk to me and it was in the paper and people came from all over and talk to me while I worked.

So I think the fact that I'm not just limiting my, not limiting but like the art world is not like woo Lydia Ricci, you're a darling right there by note. That is not happening. But I think I'm relating to enough people that there's conversations and we're having a good time.

Passionistas: What are you currently working on?

Lydia: I'm working on another movie, but it's going to be no more than four minutes again, but I'm going to tell one story again since you haven't seen the other one, which is more of like a compilation, like it's more of an introduction in all the little anecdotes. This one is a day in the life. I have a lot of kooky stories I would say. And because I have a horrible sense of direction, I've gone to cities, I've done a lot on my own. You know, I moved myself out to San Francisco when I was 21 so this is a story about my trying to find a job and I mean I don't want to ruin it, but it does end with me selling my pantyhose.

Okay. So spoiler alert. Yes. So things happen when you're just out in the world and need help from people, you know, and, or don't. Okay. Even better. I've gotten a little more street smart. That's not really true cause I still get into the same conundrums on a daily basis. I think also maybe when you don't drive and you walk everywhere and you take the bus and you take Uber, like you really, I'm out in the world. So I think that helps with things tend to happen. And I'm going to try and document some of them and I don't know if it's going to go well right now. Verdict's out. Okay. And it might not go well. Okay. So, so then I think I'll just stick to more of the simpler ten second things. And I think that's okay. Like I'm not positive this is my path is to make something longer.

I'm not sure that's gonna work and I'm perfectly reasonable about that. I'm working on a little book that's out that little pitches out in the world. So we'll see how that does. And like I said, the gallery thing and then I would like to get the work in an editorial or commercial capacity. Like I would like it to illustrate an article when we all, and in our article in the times I would like it to be in a fun magazine with, I'm wired with something else, I editorial and I can make anything. And I feel like they can illustrate other people's stories too. And that might make me some money. I'm not gonna lie. So I come from the idea that when sometimes when people give you parameters, I don't always think it's restrictive. I think it can be a challenge that enlightens you and forces you to go somewhere and maybe that you wouldn't have gone.

I was in a, a wonderful show with D. Thomas Miniatures there in New York and it was called badass miniatures. And at first I was gonna make a bowling alley or something like that. And then they sent this really neat note about, you know, the word bad-ass and aches and just do something that might make people look twice or be uncomfortable in this.

And so I thought about it, I'm like, I did the OB GYN table and I love that piece. It's, and no woman can look at that without kind of like getting a little bit, you know, cringy but then, you know, then I'm like, Oh, I don't want this to get all, I don't want to turn myself all serious. I'm not trying to put this. So then I put the like the fuzzy animals on it to kind of roll it out. And then I talk about the paper coming down and it's like, ‘Oh my God, it gets stuck to you and there's just no way you're going and they forget about you in there.’

Like you go in there and you're like, well at least if I'm in here I should lay down for a second. And you try, you can't. And you can't just have this Zen moment on the OB GYN table. There's no way possible you can try, Oh I'm going to elevate my legs cause that's good. And then you just can't put your legs in those syrups before. You have to know. It just seems wrong. It seems wrong.

Passionistas: [LAUGH] It is wrong.

Lydia: [LAUGHS] It is wrong.

Passionistas: You do so much. Do you ever feel unmotivated?

Lydia: Not unmotivated, but insecure is more. I would say I'll work my way out of a funk. You, they'll do something, but I'll be like, no one's gonna like this. Why am I doing this? What's the point of this? So that's my dark spot when I get there. Then I question if I can.

Lydia: Like I said, I said that whole cycle of like, Oh, is this going to be nice instead of like, this is stupid. Like there's already enough miniature toilets in the world and I have to really talk myself into the why. Why am I staying up late? Why am I taking the time? You know, what is I, you know, I grew up in a very practical, my dad worked for the government for 30 years. You know, he left at six 30 or six o'clock in the morning. He'll even lets it off. You know, he's supportive, but you know there is a question of no one does stuff just to do stuff like are you going to get paid for this? There's that question every once in awhile. So not being practical or functional throws me into a tizzy too. That's where it can stunt me a little bit.

And then sometimes you know, you just make stuff and you feel like it's stupid, you know, and that is scary. And then you go back and it's like you've still put it out there and then you go back and you look four weeks ago and you're like, Oh, that wasn't stupid. I wish I could have told myself that wasn't as bad as I thought it was. But you can't be. Try and remind yourself. And also if I feel like I'm in a funk, I'll cook more or I do other physical things more like I'll clean the bathroom, I won't clean it. I don't like cleaning the kitchen as much, but I will. I want to say I'll organize my office and I just don't even know how to anymore. It's never going to look meticulous and that's going to solve everything. So, and I do make my bed every morning. I'm one of those people that even though I'm messy, I'm very goal oriented and productive. So even on my worst day of feeling like unmotivated, I think I'm still getting, I had a friend say, she's like, you get more done in your morning than I do in my week. And, and she wasn't being, she's not lazy. She's no Slack. I just, in a way kind of have to keep moving.

Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project and our interview with Lydia to see Lydia's incredible creations, visit FromScraps.com.

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