Photograph of the installation of the exhibition From the Inside Looking Out: The Journals, Drawings and Prints of Charles Ritchie at the Gregg Musuem of Art & Design, North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Photograph by Matthew Gay.
Pictures at an Exhibition
Stepping into one’s solo exhibition can be revealing; especially if work that’s been out of mind for years is included. It’s strange enough seeing one’s art framed and under glass, or presented in display cases; a situation that denies the whole tactile experience of creating the work as well as displacing it from the studio in which it grew. The unfamiliar, freshly-painted white room, the rarefied lighting, and the uncluttered, surprising juxtaposition of works serves to make everything feel alien: what a great place for an artist to be.
As I spent time going through my exhibition in at North Carolina State University, several things struck me. I enjoyed reviewing some early drawings that haven’t been shown before. The group includes Window with Moon and Star and Worktable with Open Book, drawings from 1983. Both works feature the same subject, the table and window of an earlier studio. The tight pen drawing of the former was made by thinning inks and building up layers of line with a very fine point pen. This very precise drawing process took months. Compared with Worktable with Open Book, a much larger piece created using large brushes in loose watercolor wash on a watercolor block; this drawing was executed in probably a half hour. I’m fascinated that I was working with such variant methods at the same time. I think the tension of swinging between loose and tight approaches has been one of the elements that has kept painting interesting for me. I still vascillate between these poles when I work. I should also note that Window with Moon and Star seems to me to be a reflection on the 19th century British artists that I was vitally interested in the time, William Blake, Edward Calvert, and Samuel Palmer. All of whom became more familiar to me during the summer of 1984 on our honeymoon in England.
Another early work, The Bend, completed in the fall of 1984, (see my online journal entitled, The Bend), seemed to be a reflection on the period in which it was created. The year was a turning point of my life; I married, I began the move to my present studio, and my outside work shifted towards a curatorial career. Looking at the drawing, I felt as if the picture was a long jump; a leap across the dark space between the lights on the left and right of the composition. This kind of metaphor never occurs to me while I am working, but such associations emerge in hind sight. Perhaps I subconsciously scout such visual metaphors when I choose my subjects.
One of the discoveries I made looking at the show was that during the mid-to-late 1990s I was not drawing so much. There are few works from that period in this exhibition. During this period I began working with Jim Stroud at Center Street Studio making prints. Also at this time, I experimented with oil paint on gessoed board, an investigation that was never fully successful. During this diversion, I discovered that I like the versatility of working with paper and the quick drying time of watercolor.
Regarding the installation of the show; the journals seem particularly out of context when displayed in exhibitions. My books are utilitarian and when limited to a spread of two pages open in a display case they lose their functionality and serial richness. They are meant to be held in the hands and experienced as a sequence of pages. Of course, the alternative of giving up security within such a public setting seems far less palatable. I have found no better solution.
A final note; memories of the creation of the work can affect how one remembers it; such as remembering it bigger or smaller than it actually is. Ones hopes and dreams of what one wanted to achieve with with a work can also jade memory. Reacting to the inaccuracy of these mental images can often times spark the trajectory for a new journey when one steps back to contemplate in the setting of an exhibition.
Other installation photographs are below. Deepest thanks to the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at North Carolina State University, Raleigh for their beautiful presentation and particular thanks to Matthew Gay who documented the show with these images.