Connecting with his artistic voice
The lithograph bears the words “Sometimes I Soar”.
Bryan Ritchie titled the work: But Not Today.
It’s one of three “whimsical” pieces by the artist that form part of the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.
According to Mr Ritchie, a Bermudian art professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, the works question how “one navigates doubt, insecurity, failure and loss to achieve goals”.
As such, they fit perfectly with the Bermuda National Gallery’s chosen theme, “Let Me Tell You Something”.
He said: “Two of the pieces are from a body of work I produced while I was the department chair for the Department of Art and Art History.
“At the time, I was a bit concerned about losing my hand in my own practice as I did [various] administrative tasks and so I kind of made a point of going down to my studio, putting up a sheet of paper and trying to allow something to happen, trying to express myself in any capacity,” Mr Ritchie said. “It became an opportunity not to get into myself as much.”
It opened him up to a vulnerability he did not usually allow in his work, Mr Ritchie said.
“Especially if you’ve had a career of some longevity in the arts, you have a tendency to be very self-critical and often it pushes you into a corner.
“With the Yellow Series I allowed myself to consider anything.
“I was able to flesh out a body of work doing that and I thought the work connected quite well with the [BNG] theme. The print, while not an official part of the Yellow Series was done in the same spirit.”
Mr Ritchie fell in love with art while a student at Warwick Academy.
Initially he was interested in drawing, but in his art studies at the University of Windsor, he discovered printmaking.
“At the time I had no idea what printmaking was,” he laughed. “We’re going back to the late Eighties. We didn’t have the internet.
“I signed up for a printmaking class for my second semester there.
“The class was called lithography. I promptly went home and pulled out an encyclopaedia just to see exactly what lithography was.
“Lo and behold, I’m doing it 30 years later. But that was kind of the start of it.”
He soon discovered that lithography related well to drawing, the art form that pulled him in.
“It really rewards that type of sensibility,” Mr Ritchie said. “The process introduced a transformative effect to my work. It’s the same with a lot of artists.
“You find a process that allows you to be successful in your voice, you connect with it. And early on it was lithography for me.”
That collaboration between printmaking and artist is something he always tries to explain to his students.
“For instance, if you draw an image on a lithostone or you’re carving an image on woodblock, when you go to print it, the outcome is going to be a mirror image of what you drew.
“So right off the bat, there is something that is transformative about that.”
Mr Ritchie “fell into teaching” while a graduate student at the University of Colorado.
At the time it seemed a more enticing way of cutting tuition fees than working in a campus store or any of the other options on offer.
“I wasn’t an extroverted person, so the whole idea of me standing in front of a class and doing public speaking on a daily basis was, probably, the last thing I wanted growing up,” he said.
“I ended up teaching a drawing class and two painting classes. My intent was really just to be a better artist, but I fell in love with teaching.
“I really enjoyed that engagement with students, I enjoyed that collaborative relationship.
“I always look at each classroom as a research opportunity with students and faculty to see where we can take work. I know I learn just as much from my students as I hope they learn from me.”
This exhibit marks the fifth time Mr Ritchie has shown his work as part of the Biennial.
Now on sabbatical from the University of Wisconsin, it had been his intent to make a trip home and see the exhibit in person, this summer.
Thanks to Covid-19 he’s had to make do with seeing the exhibit online instead.
“My plan was to come in July, I typically come then. I was very much looking forward to seeing the exhibition.
“From what I’ve seen through photographs, it looks like a very strong show.”
The artist remains hopeful that an October solo exhibit, at the College of Southern Nevada and another in December at the Phipps Centre for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin, will go ahead.
“I’ve had a lot of things cancelled over the last few months,” he said. “My plan [through my sabbatical] was to make new work and learn some new printmaking processes. [Fortunately,] I have a studio in my basement, so I can still do a lot of drawing; it’s still a wonderful opportunity to explore themes within my own work.”
His thoughts are also with his mother, Elaine Ritchie, here in Bermuda.
“Fortunately, she has a really good network of friends. There are a lot of people looking out for her. As you get older it’s interesting.
“To me, in this day and age, people grow up, get a certain age and move away.
“I think in a particular crisis like this, you start re-examining the value of community, especially if someone is challenged or perhaps a little vulnerable. You kind of wish you lived a little closer.”
• Learn more about the 2020 Bermuda Biennial at bermudanationalgallery.com
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