‘It’s Like This Infinite Machine’: Watch Matthew Richie Reveal the Secrets of His Eccentric Image-Making

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Artist Matthew RItchie in Boston. (Photo by David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

It’s an otherworldly scene, as likely an image from deep underwater as from the depths of outer space, filling a massive canvas that measures some 8 by 10 feet. Tiny concentric circles are dotted along the snaking lines of some ambiguous structure (or creature).

This is one of the universes imagined by artist Matthew Ritchie, on view in his new exhibition “Matthew Ritchie: A Garden in the Flood” at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville. The images Ritchie conjures are a mash-up of primordial and futuristic— which makes sense, because they are the product of both human and machine.

In an exclusive interview filmed way back in 2005 as part of Art21’s “Art in the Twenty-First Century” episode Structures, Ritchie explained the genesis of his expansive projects, which all begin with the simple act of setting pen to paper.

Matthew Ritchie, The Eighth Sea (2002). Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York. © Matthew Ritchie 2014. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo: Oren Slor.

Matthew Ritchie, The Eighth Sea (2002). Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York. © Matthew Ritchie 2014. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Photo: Oren Slor.

“Drawing is very, very central to the way that I work,” the artist says, “because it can be blown up, taken apart, given to another person to execute, put into a computer, redrawn as if the computer had thought of your drawing in the first place, shrunk back down to a tiny sketch, turned into a digital game.” 

With the help of assistants and computer programs, Ritchie’s drawings are just the starting point for three-dimensional installations, paintings, and maps planning out even bigger drawings. Ritchie continues to push his drawings, increasing the resolution until the result bears little resemblance to the original sketch.

“It’s like a cross between a dictionary and a map,” he notes. “It becomes this separate thing, like a living document of its own history and the history of all the hands that have participated in its making.”

The results, as the Frist show illustrates, take painting into whole new realms of the imagination. “You can just keep on pushing it,” he stresses. “It’s like this infinite machine.” 

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Art in the Twenty-First Century, below. “Matthew Ritchie: A Garden in the Flood” is on view from November 11, 2022 through March 5, 2023 at the Frist Art Museum. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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