Head's Up!: A Conversation with Father-Son Duo, Matt & Miles Ritchie
Even though the show is closed to do San Francisco's shelter-in-place provision, we were excited to see the works of Matt and Miles Ritchie up at Recess in our hometown. Head's Up is not only an installation, but a series of unique collectibles from the two artists, from pins and prints, to masks and stickers. From comic book inspiration to pop-culture iconography, the Ritchie's created a collector's dreamscape, originals with their distinct style. Recess's Lyndsie Fox sat down with Matt and Miles to get the story behind their works, and how the father-son relationship has allowed them to bounce inspiration off of each other. —Juxtapoz
Lyndsie Fox (Recess): You guys have played around with so many different presentations in your previous show themes - encasing small works in compartmentalized displays as a nod to your many collections/collecting habits, using posture/figurative movement in your "slump" series to convey "an exhausted look at exhausted pop", and even forgoing faces/bodies altogether through object personification. Why the head-on, facial portraits for this collection? What messages or character traits are you trying to explore in this format?
Matt Ritchie: Yeah, in our joint Pop Perspective show [at Recess’ sister gallery Spoke Art], I was the one who did the slumped pieces. A kind of exhaustive look on exhausted pop theme. Miles was already on the portrait format at that show. For me, doing the head-on approach along with Miles was an opportunity to meet Miles in the middle and cover the same ground in our own ways. I’ve done a lot of shows and themes in the past couple decades. A lot of concept-heavy themes. This show is pretty linear. This was an opportunity to delve into my life-long passion of comic book collecting. It’s a very specific show!
Matt, in addition to your usual paintings on wood, you've also created an entire series of hand-embellished comic books for this show. Can you tell us more about these works, and what exactly the CGC grading means?
Matt: CGC stands for the Certified Guaranty Company, a company that specializes in grading and encasing comics and collectibles. It’s a means of guaranteeing the provenance and value of a collectable. Concerning the books that I have in the Heads Up! show, the CGC cases further verify that I am the specific artist who painted the covers. The interior work in the book is also credited on the case. I thought that this would be a unique way of “framing” these paintings for a gallery setting. I had to become a CGC-verified artist to get these books graded with my work credited on them. I thought it would be fun because myself and other collectors of comics get the best comic books in our collection graded in the same manner!
How cool! Yes, the interior book and the entire presentation is super fun and unique. They’re collectibles and amazing original paintings, so they’re perfect for both the comic book collector and the art lover! Miles, you've incorporated much more color in this new collection as opposed to your previous works with exposed unfinished wood. Was it a natural shift in your artistic process or did some of your dad's style rub off on you during this collaboration?
Miles Ritchie: Definitely a natural shift. I enjoyed the naturalistic look of the exposed wood on my older pieces, but I’ve always gravitated towards bright colors and wanted to implement them into my work. By using a combination of acrylic paints as well as wood stains, I’ve been able to introduce bold colors while still maintaining visibility of the wood’s natural grain.
And in addition to your wooden Pop-Ply Portraits, you've also designed a fun new product for this show: a Frankenstein mask! Was this your first time working on a project like this? Can you tell us more about the creation of these molded masks, and what your role was in the production process?
Miles: Yes! This was my first time designing and producing a product, and I’m incredibly proud of how they turned out. The mask was designed by me, based on the Frankenstein portrait in the show, and sculpted by my good friend and mentor Greg Aronowitz. Greg is a prop and set designer, director, writer, producer, and all around awesome person. I’m lucky enough to get to occasionally head down to LA and assist him with some film and TV projects at his studio, Barnyard FX. After sculpting the mask, he made a resin casting of the sculpt, and that casting went through the vacuum forming process which allowed us to make as many copies of the mask as needed. They were then painted with some base colors and sent my way where I added additional detailing. I designed the packaging, and once all the pieces were together, my girlfriend and I assembled the final products. They were a hands-on project from start to finish and, I believe, a really cool and unique product!
You two have similar styles and interests. Considering your father-son relationship and your shared studio spaces, your work must be incredibly entwined. But I wonder - are there any things you disagree on? Any Marvel-vs-DC type feuds about pop culture stories and characters, or "creative differences" when it comes to process and tools?
Matt: Actually, the only studio space we share is our wood-working studio. In the wood studio, we do a pretty good job of working around each other. My art studio is my own space with all of my supplies, art, comic books... and a door. But we don’t disagree on much. Miles tends to enjoy the world of cinema more while I enjoy the world of books and comics. As far as creative differences are concerned, I really try to let Miles grow and mature with as little influence from me as possible. Tools do come up missing though, and I know who to ask first as to where they went.
Miles: I don’t believe we ran into any major disagreements or creative differences during the time leading to Heads Up! We both have very similar tastes and mutual respect for each others preferred pieces of pop culture. However... I will admit that I would occasionally forget to return a tool or art supply to my dad’s studio after borrowing it, and I’m sure he didn’t love that.
Miles, knowing Matt's tenacious creativity and his encyclopedic knowledge of all things pop culture, I can only imagine the sort of inspired energy around you as you grew up. Even your house, which also contains your studio/woodshop spaces, are full floor-to- ceiling with art and art supplies. It seems almost inevitable that you would follow in your father's footsteps. In making a name for yourself, are there any things you try to emulate from Matt, or perhaps distance yourself from? (And I don't mean that negatively, I only mean for the sake of individuality and your own creative process/ brand.)
Miles: My dad and the house(s) I grew up in certainly served as the main driving force for my interest in art. His stellar sense of design coupled with his unparalleled work ethic blows me away to this day. Growing up, I took a lot of inspiration from his work, and still am inspired by elements in his pieces. But in recent years, I’ve developed my own workflow. I continue to experiment with different techniques and design choices that are gradually evolving into my own unique style, and continues to evolve every day. I will always look up to and admire my dad’s work while striving to create an entirely new brand, composed of my artwork, products, apparel, and whatever else comes down the line.
Matt, you spent years exploring different mediums before focusing on your painted wood series. While Miles, you seem to be starting your creative career here. How do you each see yourselves evolving over the next few years? Are there any other mediums you want to try?
Matt: I don’t really think about materials or mediums much! I will just use whatever seems to work with my next project. Right now, I’m doing some fun digital drawing on my iPad for my comic book club Instagram page, @keysandgrails.
Miles: I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to showcase my work through Spoke Art (and now Recess) for the past 3 years. That has already allowed me to display my work in multiples spaces around the country (San Francisco, New York, Hawaii, etc.) so I’m curious to see where else my work can reach in the years to come. My woodcut work will always be something I’m comfortable producing and interested in showing, but there are many other mediums I’m interesting in trying my hand at. I’m in a very fortunate situation where I’m able to reach out to a lot of gifted friends who work in numerous mediums when I need advice. I also have a YouTube series, Making Faces, that documents the making of my artwork, which allows me to practice filming and editing - another medium I have a great interest in.
What do you think about the trends in pop culture towards heavily computerized, CGI- ified, visually realistic entertainment? Does the story—the world, its characters, the plot— lose some of the magic when it becomes more realistic? Or does the realism help us get lost in the story? And how do these effect-driven visuals influence your own art?
Matt: CGI effects were inevitable. If the CGI work is well crafted, then it’s cool! If not, then it sucks and it’s no big deal. The comic book movies are a different experience than the comics themselves but with the same characters. I love how the movies are getting folks to explore comics though, and how the movies boost the collector market.
Miles: As a frequent movie-goer who also occasionally gets to do practical effects work, I recognize that CGI is an important tool that allows filmmakers to enhance the story they want to tell. While I’m sure it’s an easy tool to get carried away with, and many contemporary movies get overcrowded with exhausting visuals, many of these visual effects have provided a great deal of inspiration to my artwork and countless others.
There are a couple great nods to non comic book characters in this show, for example, Miles' portrait of Gorillaz's "Stuart" and Matt's Kiss x Scooby Doo crossover "Kids." Beyond these two musical works, are there any other "hidden" Easter eggs we can expect to find in Heads Up!?
Miles: People who were able to view Heads Up! in person or online likely noticed that my pieces weren’t labeled with their literal names, but rather nicknames or references to their respective IP. Like “Stuart” being the birth name of the character widely known as 2-D from Gorillaz, or “Maggots” being used to refer to David from Lost Boys based on his iconic dialogue from the movie. However, a bigger Easter egg that I snuck in amongst my wooden replicants, was a mystery portrait entitled “Wizzy.” Rather than a pop culture icon, this piece was actually based off of the insanely talented artist (and one of my closest friends) Jonathan Way$hak. Jon hates having his picture taken, but he couldn’t stop me from including him in this show!
That explains it! Everyone’s been trying to crack that “Wizzy” portrait for weeks.
Matt: I added a couple pieces that are of my own creation or co-creation! The Alphanimals are a bunch of characters that I created specifically for Heads Up! All the characters have their own back story, complete with a villain! I have an original Alphanimals painting, plus two pins and a sticker sheet available in the show. The other originals characters in Heads Up! are the Astralnauts, who were co-created by myself and my good friend Alex Pardee for our 2 person show titled Astralnauts at Gallery 1988 in 2016. I love these characters and am very proud of the world I built with Alex. I’ve included an original painting plus a limited-edition print of the Astralnauts in this collection.
Lastly, do you have any words of advice for non "comic book nerds" who want to enjoy your work without the same history and connection to the characters you recreate?
Miles: I believe our work can be enjoyed by various demographics regardless of their comic book, or even general pop culture, knowledge. The pieces are bright and engaging - even more so on a technical level when you realize every piece is cut and painted entirely by hand. There’s a lot to enjoy no matter what you’re into!
Matt: At this point superheroes are ubiquitous. Anybody can relate to the content of this show at least on some level. Personally, I painted about 300 individual heads for this show. Hopefully, someone could connect to at least one of them!
Recess is closed to the public for the month of March due to COVID19, but you can view and shop the show online