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  • The Wheel of Life
  • Michael Joo (bio)
Matthew Ritchie, The Hard Way, Basilico Fine Arts, New York, October 19–November 23, 1996.

Matthew Ritchie’s past work has emphasized an exploration of the creation and development of language. In his most recent show at Basilico Fine Arts, Ritchie expanded and applied his complex systems to present a cross-section of an intricate myth of a world model. Utilizing linear structures to demonstrate cyclical realities, he managed to preside over the usually uneasy marriage of narrative and abstraction, in the process positing questions about the identity of painting. Entering the gallery, the viewer was introduced to graphic portraits of seven characters, painted directly on the wall, which framed and dictated the nature of the works in the rest of the installation. The seven characters, based on the nodal points of human brain development, are part of a much larger, intricately woven narrative created by the artist.

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Figure 1.

Matthew Ritchie, The Hard Way, installation view, Basilico Fine Arts, New York, October 19–November 23, 1996. Photo: Courtesy Basilico Fine Arts.

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Figure 2.

Matthew Ritchie, The Big Deal, 1996. Oil and marker on canvas, 100” x 72”. Photo: Courtesy Basilico Fine Arts.

Further explaining each of the characters was an ongoing series of seven drawings depicting a loose narrative about their origins. Each representational ink drawing was informed by a mixture of Audubon-like scientific study with Greek mythological depiction, and each introduced color assignments for each protagonist. In the main gallery space Ritchie presented several pieces comprised of interlocking, tile-like swatches of color applied directly to the wall and extending onto the floor in one piece. The geometry and opaque, absolute color of each tile component of these large mosaic-reliefs suggested the extreme rationale employed in the structure of Ritchie’s “world,” by referencing earlier color components of the characters and further suggesting crystalline forms. On opposing walls of the gallery, the tile-forms were repeated as tightly painted forms on canvas. In these large canvases, small depictions of the seven characters were painted almost transparently at points over the hard, interlocking geometrical shapes.

Basing his characters upon the religious text notion of a “fall from grace,” Ritchie employed an arch example of narrative in combination with the abstract nature of the reality of interpretation. In language, as in the stereotypical notion of [End Page 77] painting, something (words/representation) comes from nothing (letters/marks/abstraction). Perhaps in Ritchie’s world, this something returns to its nothing state of abstraction as it is read, broken down into words, letters, and interpretation, thus making a cycle out of the typically linear. A reference to science as revealed through the crystalline was also present; not unlike Robert Smithson’s interest in the crystal’s interior form, the potential for endless repetition suggested both linear progress and cyclical possibilities.

In Ritchie’s version of a narrative world, characters’ origins and roles intersect at numerous points along the three-dimensional gridded cube in which they exist (occasionally even departing this 3-D world for other planes). The potential complexity of these systems is further reflected in the fact that this particular show comprised the second part of three interrelated installations which took place in three different countries. Suggesting a strategy of over-rationalizing to achieve simplicity, Ritchie also points to the idea that slang develops in a language only at the point of oversaturation. Like the most accomplished meditators in a Western-made movie about Far Eastern monks, Ritchie uses a repetition of ideas and forms, almost fractal in their simultaneous complexity and simplicity, to indicate alternative routes for escaping the mundanity of a “wheel of life” that comprises issues of originality.

Samples of work for this grand scheme were selected for inclusion in the 1997 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial.

Michael Joo

Michael Joo is an artist based in New York; a solo exhibition of his multi-media pieces was presented at the Anton Kern Gallery, New York, in February 1997.


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pp. 77-79
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