The City Magazine Since 1975

Meet artist Jonathan Rypkema who finds inspiration for his 3-D sculptures everywhere, from museum installations to construction dumpsters

Meet artist Jonathan Rypkema who finds inspiration for his 3-D sculptures everywhere, from museum installations to construction dumpsters
August 2022

He’s about to step into the spotlight as a Visiting Artist at the Gibbes

Jonathan Rypkema in his studio, where his focus has been on creating 3-D sculptures, often from salvaged materials. The artist will be in residence at the Gibbes Museum of Art from August 29 to October 9.

If Jonathan Rypkema isn’t on your radar, he’s about to be. In recent years, the multidisciplinary artist’s work has vibrated at a low hum on the Charleston art scene, sometimes literally, as backdrops for stage sets at Music Farm and in public murals around town. Rypkema doesn’t have much of an online presence, a decision that’s as much about focus and efficiency as it is about a preference for in-person relationships and encounters. With an upcoming Visiting Artist residence at the Gibbes Museum, however, he’s about to step into the spotlight.

A College of Charleston grad with a degree in studio art, his work has evolved into creating 3-D sculptures made from wood panels. Shapes, both “friendly” and interesting, drive the work, with texture, pattern, and a minimal color palette in supporting roles. Remarkably, most of his materials are salvaged from construction dumpsters and his influence ranges from architecture to graffiti to Renaissance art.

Preternaturally grounded, Rypkema stays focused on the work instead of the market, appreciates his day job as a fine art framer, and knows when to give himself and his art space and time to develop. We caught up with him on a “studio day” as he considered how to translate his process to the Gibbes’ 440-square-foot public studio.

Rypkema created building blocks (spray paint on wood, 48 x 50 x 5 inches, 2021) for Sanders-Clyde Elementary with support from Charleston Promise Neighborhood and Redux. 

Sculpture Inspiration: The last couple of years of college, I started pursuing sculpture and woodworking. I like the physical aspect of it. After college, I worked as the preparator for the Halsey, hanging shows and shipping artwork. It was a crash course that made me aware of how art hangs in a space and how people engage with it.

On Spontaneity: Recently, I’ve been influenced by scrap plywood left over from construction. I’ll find these fully assembled offcuts with perfect shapes I’d never think to create. I let those shapes speak for themselves. Rarely do I have a set plan—it gives a spontaneous quality to the work.

Shaping Emotions: Shapes have conveyed emotions throughout history. Think of a Roman arcade; it conveys power, engineering, beauty, and elegance. The way shapes are positioned conveys emotion—that’s what architecture is if you break it down, just shapes and lines, but you can feel it.

Digital Presence, or Lack Thereof: I find making the work more important. It’s something I wrestle with, and I am working on a website, but I don’t want it to take over.
A lot of my opportunities have been by word of mouth; there’s something important about just meeting people. I don’t want Instagram to hold me back from making work.

Having a Day Job: There’s something nice about having a day job; it frees up my mind and takes the pressure off so art can come from a clear place in my head. Of course, artists need to put food on the table, but the work has to come from a place of, “What do you want to see?”