upon entering our new 11th Street location in Philadelphia's Midtown Village you'll immediately notice the large, vibrant mural completed by Martha Rich. Featuring colorful characters proclaiming even more colorful remarks (some of which Martha had overheard while eavesdropping at our 16th Street location), this piece provides a wonderful splash of energy to the space. No stranger to the Philly art scene, Martha's work can be found in most neighborhoods throughout the city, such as a large exterior mural in Callowhill, or an illustration framed + hung on a wall inside Hungry Pigeon in South Philly. We met with Martha to learn more about what inspired her playful yet serious designs + what sets the Philadelphia art community apart from others in the nation.
hg: tell us a little bit about you, your artistic background + how you ended up in Philly.
martha: I grew up outside of Philly in Devon. As I kid, I was very artistic, my parents were hippyish and supportive, but the suburbs can sometimes kick the art out of you. There is a traditional mentality there; go to college, get a corporate job, get married, white picket fence, yada yada. I tried that. Graduated college, moved to Atlanta, got a corporate job, got married, moved to LA. Then, just short of the picket fence, I got divorced and somehow ended up quitting my corporate job in HR at Universal Studios and going back to school at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I got a degree in Illustration and worked as an illustrator for 15 years. Then I got sick of the LA grind and decided to apply to grad schools in PA to be closer to my family. I got into the UPenn MFA program + stayed after graduating.
hg: from an artist’s point of view, how does Philadelphia compare to other cities you’ve visited/lived in? Do you feel it is easier for an artist to express themselves (+ make a living while doing it) in Philadelphia?
martha: I think Philly is a great city to make art in because of its affordability + the slight under-the-radarness of it. It is easier to take risks. My career got bigger after I moved here, but there is something to be said for starting out in a big city market, making a name for yourself and then coming here. I notice that some Philly artists who haven’t lived in other places tend to sell themselves short by not thinking bigger. In major market cities there is a higher level of competitiveness. On the other hand, I have seen a change in this since I moved back in 2009. The ambition and innovation levels are rising.
hg: what motivates you as an artist? Is your work more responsive to a particular request, area or feeling, or do you seek inspiration to shape what you ultimately create?
martha: life motivates me.
hg: you’re the featured artist at our new 11th Street spot in Philly. What inspired the final design which you installed + what do you hope to express with this piece?
martha: I have a degree in Sociology/Anthropology that I got before my BFA/MFA. That seeps into my art. I am fascinated by people interacting. It came to a head when I moved from LA to Philly. I went from always being in my car and only being with people I know to riding the bus, walking around, hearing people yelling on the streets from my window, and being in close proximity to people I didn’t know on a daily basis. I started keeping a notebook of things I overheard. Riding the 40 bus was a big inspiration. You’d hear doctors talking about surgery in one ear and in the other ear someone talking about just getting out of jail. For this piece, I sat in the honeygrow on 16th and listened. A lot of the sayings came from lunches at honeygrow. It is a little microcosm of city life.
hg: your recent work has featured a playful series of colorful “faces” proclaiming various statements—sometimes serious, sometimes funny, sometimes clever. What about these “conversations” are you trying to convey through your art?
"I want to convey that there is art in life. The colorful faces represent people without their labels."
hg: you also recently collaborated with other Philadelphia artists in the “Signs of Solidarity” series which were displayed citywide around the inauguration of President Trump. Tell us a little about why this project was important for you to be a part of + the message you hoped to convey through your sign.
martha: ugh, how can you not want to do something? I am still trying to figure what more I’m going to do. The sign was an easy start, a reminder that people have power, but you have to use the power together. I was complacent before this election. You have to actively try to not be complacent because it is easy to fall back into it, especially if you have privilege. I haven’t done enough to help other people. I am trying to change that.
hg: in your opinion, why is it important for cities to remain invested in + supportive of the arts (especially in this current political climate)?
martha: artists show things in different ways. New ideas come from that. Connections come from that. Change comes from that. The world would be dead without art.
hg: what is the goal you wish to achieve with your art overall? What messages or feelings do you hope it conveys/evokes to the viewer?
martha: I want people to feel less alone.
hg: you’re quite active within the Philadelphia art community—sharing your knowledge + experience with others who are looking to pursue an artistic career via the Tyler School of Art and other educational workshops. Why is it important for you to give back in this way?
"Keeping knowledge to yourself is uncool. What is the point of that? The meaning of life is lifting other people up."
hg: where else can we spot your work? Not just in Philly, but other cities as well…
martha: I do a lot of work with a great company called Blue Q. They make gifty stuff like bags, socks, soaps, with smart-ass sayings on them. Their products are in stores all over the world. I saw one of my bags in the window of Papermoon on 4th just yesterday. I also illustrated a great book called “Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk” by the Jealous Curator. Hmm let's see… there is a mural on Buttonwood behind Union Transfer, and some pigeon art in the Hungry Pigeon on 4th. Oh, there are prints and original art for sale at Trinity Framing on 3rd and Bainbridge.
hg: where can we purchase some of your work?
marhta: I have two online stores: 100for100.bigcartel.com where I am making 100 pieces of art for $100 and martharichartprojects.bigcartel.com where I sell art including a print that I am donating 50% of the sales to The Center for Hungry-Free Communities. I’ve already donated $660 to them!