Charles Ritchie, Interior/Exterior, 1987-1989, watercolor, graphite, and pen and ink on Fabriano paper, sheet/image: 8 1/8” x 29 3/8”, collection of the artist. Note the oak tree just to the left of center in the middle ground and compare it with the same tree 20 years later seen in the image below.
Charles Ritchie, Self-Portrait with Night: Side Panels I, 2006-2008, watercolor and graphite on Fabriano paper, sheet/image: 5 3/4 x 17 1/4″. Both of the works pictured above are in the exhibition From the Inside Looking Out: Charles Ritchie on view at Gallery Joe, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania through 20 December 2008.
One Place / Any Place
I sat down for the first time at my window nearly 25 years ago and looked out to the row of suburban houses.
Since that time I’ve watched people move into those houses and transfer away. I’ve watched an oak grow from a modest sapling into a towering tree. I’ve seen the girths of three magnificent tulip poplar trees broaden. I’ve had dogwoods come and go; young redbuds block my view and then grow tall beyond my window frame. I’ve seen houses painted, screened porches become additions, and yards become forests, lawns manicured. Chimneys and roofs repaired. Leaves fill the yards and daffodils rise. Sunrise flood the neighborhood and sunset wash it red, winter noon burn out detail and summer diffuse it. I’ve watched my face grow older incrementally night after night, reflected in the window; superimposed over blackness, lamps, and nebulae. A favorite book of mine is The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul in which the author illuminates minute and intermittent changes that underpin what appears to be a static universe. It is all a matter of attention.
A friend of mine, writer Peter Turchi, has paralleled my enthusiasms with that of naturalist E.O. Wilson whose activities began as a boy when he became fascinated by fire ants. Wilson has noted that a biologist could make a career out of studying the life forms at the base of a single tree. Yes, like that hypothetical biologist, I’ve chosen my tree. But Pete has also likened my engagement to a private astronomy, mapping out a personal pantheon of galaxies and constellations; engaging the local with the distant and reflecting inwardly on those places I strain to collect in my lens.
In graduate school, inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller visited and articulated a message I’ve held close since that evening, “live your life as an experiment.” That has been my goal in my work. What is it to sit in a room and look at the world from virtually the same vantage point and create a body of work over a lifetime? At the core of this postulate is a meditative relationship with the world and I find comfort and freedom in such a focused inquiry.
There’s nothing inherently exceptional about the view I have, my little window could be any place. It is equivalent to an infinite number of views. Such thoughts bring me to a game I occasionally play. Stop right where I am, right now. What am I not seeing that could be a new path to the waterfall?
[Thanks to Raymond Carver for the use of his title.]