Matthew Ritchieby Jennifer Coates
Andrea Rosen Gallery
Matthew Ritchie is a visionary thinker who makes decorative, diagrammatic paintings where pictorial information spills from its rectangular boundaries and commandeers real space. In his latest show at Andrea Rosen Gallery, Matthew Ritchie: After Lives, he sought to detail a transformational cycle that encompassed birth, death, solidity, and liquidity. In the large paintings, of which there were five, striped circular pods that looked like flying saucers were propelled outward from coiling painterly skeins and delicate plexi, defying gravity. Gassy protoplasm or space dust became mathematical notation. His frothy formality conjures the Rococo: whimsical curves, lush flora, and leisure-time insouciance. An abstract drawing behind the paintings covered all four walls and part of the floor. It had a hard-edged physicality that contrasted with the ethereal creation scenarios put forth in the paintings, but its more purely abstract form was less suggestive of content. In tandem, the splashy, brightly colored blobs and the sweeping flourishes of magical formulas evoke a remedial learning environment for the unindoctrinated or perhaps an alchemical workshop where symbols turn into maps that turn into pictures that turn concrete.
Sometimes it seems as though Ritchie is just superficially grafting scientific-like models onto a painterly language. He uses the anachronism of pictorial, landscape-based space as a binder for a sprawling but hermetic cosmology. The two aspects are molded into imaginary structures that are meant to represent how we think as well as how we construct pictures. Ritchie has provided, over the years, an index of his symbols, what they mean and how they interact, and he has written articulately about his own work. There is always an elaborate story that goes along with what we see. Yet his theoretical wizardry is always couched in a decidedly subjective, handmade tradition. It’s interesting to think about why this is, but the answer doesn’t readily reveal itself. The analogical connection between how he thinks, how we think, and the history of how paintings are constructed is tenuous and hard to grasp.
These epistemological meta-networks are conceptually at odds with the painted world in which they are suspended. There is a fluttery elusiveness to his paintings that belies the heady theories that generate them. The chasm between his lexicon and his painterly style remains oddly alluring, due to the quirky, pointless rigor of his unconfinable mental and physical activity. There is a romantic idealism to his musings. Yet looking at a Matthew Ritchie installation does not necessarily render the way we see or think more understandable. As self-referencing, self-perpetuating organisms, they deflect social or psychological insight and inspire marvel but not knowledge. Maybe that’s exactly what the artist wants.
Coates's paintings utilize landscape as a vehicle for hallucinatory visions and psychological spaces.