Alex Pardee and Matt Ritchie "The Astralnauts"
For the past few months, Alex Pardee and Matt Ritchie have been playing in a spiritual sandbox, creating a new visual and narrative world full of ghosts, aliens, haunted planets, spaceships, and cybernetic dolphins. Their new universe will be unveiled this Friday, June 10 in Los Angeles and they launch “THE ASTRALNUATS” at Gallery 1988:West.
How did this new show at Gallery 1988 come about?
Matt Ritchie: Alex called me, I think sometime last October, and asked if I would be interested in a 2-man show with him at Gallery 1988 and I was instantly on board. Over the next few months we hammered out the details and the concept. The result is the Astralnauts!
Alex Pardee: I did call him, but it was after Gallery 1988 actually asked me if I would like to team up with Matt for a show. It was something that Matt and I had always talked about so when the gallery asked if we would be open to that, I asked Matt, and to my delight, I didn’t have to force him....again.
Where did the title of the show “The Astralnauts” come from?
Alex: The concept for the show came before the name, which actually made it frustrating because when we broke down the concept, it was literally about “Space Ghosts”, which is already an awesome property...twice! And even a step further, Matt lives and works in California and I live and work in Florida, so it actually made even more sense to call it “Space Ghosts, Coast to Coast”, which, well, would have been too much of a coincidence. So we just brainstormed, and I love word-play and puns and we both wanted the show to explain exactly what we were showcasing in one word. So we came up with “Astralnauts”, which basically means “Other-Realm-Explorers”. I think it fits nicely.
Were there any alternate ideas that you came up with when you first agreed to show together?
Alex: Gallery 1988 has a pretty strong brand that is based a lot in existing pop-culture-based art. So at first, Matt and I couldn’t help but steer our ideas toward a pop-culture show to fit the market of the gallery. But pretty quickly we both personally felt a little exhausted from shows revolving around existing properties. I think one of the main reasons Matt and I get along so well is because we both have this craving to create new worlds. Those new worlds are obviously heavily inspired by existing properties and pop-culture, but nonetheless, they are original. They are ours. We want to eventually be PART of pop-culture, instead of just always pulling from it. We’ve both explored world-building in the past so once we started talking about it, that’s all we wanted to do was build a new world together. I think Matt was the first one that said “Let’s base it off of some 70’s and 80’s comics and toys”. So that’s where we started looking for inspiration, and it just spiraled from there.
Matt, what is your general approach in creating one of the Astralnaut “capsule” pieces?
Matt: The capsules came about because I felt a need to showcase a high number of the alien ghosts at a small scale giving the pieces an affordable price point. Also, they were fun to make! Conceptually, they are the perfect vehicle for showcasing the various species of aliens that the Astralnauts are capturing and “tooning”. That being said, they are pretty labor-intensive to build. I had a bunch of capsules routed out of 1-inch birch. I then designed, hand cut, hand painted, and mounted each alien on 1/8 inch birch pieces into the hand painted capsules. I have 42 capsules in the show focusing on both original designs and a few familiar faces.
Is this process similar to the work you have done in the past?
Matt: Absolutely! Lots of labor-intensive miniatures assembled in collections.
How long did it take you to design the tremendous ship piece?
Matt: From doodle to completion, about 600 hours. It’s 5 feet long, about 3 and a half feet tall, consists of 121 hand cut and painted pieces, and custom made pieces for assembly.
Is there any room for mistakes when you make a piece that involved?
Matt: Not really. But it’s so methodical it’s hard to really screw up once I’m rolling. Plus, I’ve been doing similar work for the last couple years.
Do you hand cut and paint each piece?
Matt: Yes, and I think I hate myself.
Are you insane?
Matt: It depends on who you ask. I would say maybe. Everyone who knows me well has used that word in describing me or the things I do. Who knows?
Alex: I know the amount of work that goes into your art. I think you are pretty insane. And I love it.
Have you gotten any serious injuries from cutting thousands of pieces of wood?
Matt: So far, I’ve sustained only minor injuries. Cross my fingers (as long as I have them) that I stay healthy!
What about you, Alex, what is your process for one of your larger-scale pieces in the show?
Alex: My larger pieces are done with inks and acrylics on a surface called Clayboard, which is a compressed ground base that is paintable, but also “scratchable”. I basically just scribbled out an idea for a ghost, transferred the drawing to the board, and then commenced to make a mess with the inks until I felt like there’s enough of a mess, then spent WAY too long cleaning it up and tightening up the shapes and the line-work. With clayboard, I can scratch away or sand off any unwanted lines.
With your previous work, Matt, you have created whole worlds by making tons of little sculptural paintings and dioramas, and most of these worlds continue to expand. With this collection, you have managed to create a whole GALAXY out of tiny things. Is this world-building something that is preconceived when you make a new piece? Or is it the other way around, where you make one piece, and that inspires you to build a world around it?
Matt: With “The Astralnauts” I had to crank out one piece after another without much time to think about what I was doing. It was a way of working that I wasn’t really used to. I had to go about it this way because I wanted a lot of quality content in the limited timeframe that I had. I’m really happy with the results. The Astralnauts concept is so infinite that it was easy to just put things together. Also, I had Alex’s narrative and ideas to work with as well as my own. With previous projects, I usually plan a little farther ahead.
The Astralnauts show is interesting because it’s a collaborative show, but in an original way. You didn’t actually collaborate together on paintings, and, in fact, your styles are almost exactly opposite from each other, but your pieces meld together really nicely and they DO belong together within this world. How did you approach this challenge of melding your styles together?
Matt: It was really a seamless collaboration in concept as well as work. Alex and I stayed on the same page throughout the entire project. We were both able to play to our strengths without getting in each other’s way. Everything Alex showed me as we were producing work was blowing my mind! There was A LOT of communication and sharing throughout the entire process. It doesn’t hurt that Alex and I are soulmates, either.
Alex: Both Matt and I were aware of the differences in style from the beginning but it was never a question of “are these paintings going to look cool together” because of course they will! I mean, I love Matt’s work so to hang my work with his was just something that I wanted to see, regardless. But we knew that visually they would be opposites. His are intricate, graphic and smaller, and mine are bigger and messier and gross. But what we did was simply create a story around both of the styles so that, in context of the narrative of the show, the opposite styles of art make a lot of sense. And sharing the work as we went along helped us mold our pieces into a consistent world.
The Astralnauts is an original concept, but are there any direct inspirations that you pulled from when creating the world and the work? Or anything that led you to the idea for The Astralnauts?
Matt: Alex and his gift of telling a story with both words and pictures was my key inspiration. Obviously, I love Alex’s art, but I have always been a huge fan of Alex’s storytelling and writing talent as well. Alex came up with the core Astralnauts concept and backstory and I added details, story arcs and designs as we proceeded. Outside of Alex, I was inspired by comic books (namely Marvel’s Micronauts), Ghostbusters, Adventure Time, The Venture Bros, all Alien movies, The Right Stuff, 1980’s action figures, and retro 1950s sci-fi. I have to add that I was tremendously inspired by the story of Ed Dwight, the first African-American admitted to NASA’s Astronaut program. I modeled the leader of the Astronauts after him. Ed Dwight is an amazing man with an amazing story!
Alex: When Matt and I first started figuring out that we wanted to create a world inspired by 70’s & 80’s cartoons and toys, we started listing things we like that fit that era, but I also had this book on my desk called “Night Parade Of Dead Souls”, which is an art book all about different Japanese ghosts and ghost stories. I kept going back to this book and re-discovering how much I actually love ghosts. I was also (and still am) obsessed with Rick & Morty. I think that show is incredible. So when I first started brainstorming, I just kept wanting to mash some inspiration from Rick & Morty together with some inspiration from these Japanese ghost legends, which are crazy. The result of all of this was a 70s/80s-inspired mashup of Matt’s earlier influences and my recent influences, which evolved into The Astralnauts.
Was the idea of adding a narrative to the collection of art always intended?
Alex: Definitely. I’m always interested in adding a narrative to a lot of my work, especially to any collections or worlds that I create. Thankfully, Matt was game and let me get the ball rolling with some silly ideas for a story and then we both used those initial ideas as a jumping off point for the paintings.
I don’t think narratives are required to enjoy art, but I simply love making up stories about some of the characters that I create, so I incorporate that a lot. I kind of view the narrative side of my art as something like DVD special features. You can sit and watch the movie, and enjoy it for 2 hours, then if you like what you see, you can explore the special features for a few more hours. Another example is Disneyland. I LOVE going to Disneyland because they give you the option to dive deeper into each world. You can choose to just walk though each line and hop on a ride and enjoy the ride, or you can spend a few more minutes slowly walking through the line, reading the little details and getting immersed in each world. Then the ride is actually the payoff.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Alex: Sure, why not?! I love believing in supernatural elements because SOMEDAY, MAYBE! Also, I do have one experience that I will never forget. When I was about 15, we turned my parents’ garage into a “clubhouse” with an old couch and a television. And one day, my friends and I were arguing over what to watch, and we were sitting on the couch about 10 feet away, when all of a sudden the TV (which was OFF), flipped on for a second, sparked, and then the cord ripped itself out of the wall and the tv fell face first. I think maybe it committed suicide because it was tired of us bitching.
Matt: I believe a ghost carried me to my dreams when I was a child. Every night until I was about 4, I dreamed that a ghost would pick me out of bed and bring me into a lamp that hung in my room to start my dreams. This was literally the way I started my dreams every night. It stopped sometime around age 4 and never happened again after that. Other than that, I’m open to the concept.
Is the final outcome of the show Astralnauts show exactly what you had envisioned it to be?
Alex: No, not exactly, but it’s BETTER, because it’s more focused than we originally planned. In the beginning, we purposely went overboard with our ideas, and had some insane grandiose concepts. We started researching giant Tupac-style holograms and projections, and a lot of stuff that is utilized in haunted houses, but when it came down to it, we didn’t want too many distractions from the art and the world. So we scaled it down and focused on the story and the art. However, we DID get something created for the show that we are SO excited about. Greg Aronowitz, a sculptor, director and fx wizard created a 7-foot installation for us that I can’t wait to show off. Greg is incredible.
Matt, do you like Alex?
Matt: I love Alex!
Would you hire Alex for a management position?
Matt: Funny you should mention that! I’m considering him for a position in my company that just opened up. He’s got some stiff completion though. The other candidate is Dave Correia, and Dave is EXTREMELY organized!
If you were to hire Alex for a management position, and he excelled far beyond your professional ranking, and then he fired you, would you be angry at him?
Matt: I’d lawyer up.
Did Alex write these last questions?
Matt: I hope so.