This week, we took a look inside abstract artist Cameron Wilson Ritcher's Virginia studio. After a virtual tour of the space, we talked with Cameron about his two series of work - assemblage and resin - how they each evolved, the process and challenges that arise in creating each series, and more. Read the interview or skip to the bottom for the virtual tour and live discussion, which we hosted with Cameron on Instagram this past Tuesday.
Our Interview with Cameron Wilson Ritcher
Where are you from originally and where are you located now?
I was born in Carbondale, IL, grew up in Harrisonburg, VA, and have lived in Richmond, VA for 5 years.
Tell us about your artwork and style in general.
Generally I have a materials and process-based approach to my work - meaning that the materials and processes I’m using are central to the decisions I make in my work. This is in contrast to an artist who might be more concerned with conveying a narrative or emotion, or implying a metaphor through imagery. That’s not to say those things are necessarily absent in my work, but for me, art is more about my own exploration and curiosity. As we’ll discuss more in a bit, I have two seemingly disparate bodies of work. However, they are both heavily influenced by my fascination with tactility and texture, as well as a formalist approach to color and composition.
How did you get started as an artist?
Like many artists, I’ve been making things since I was a kid. I always liked conventional drawing and painting, but I also was often found tinkering with various found objects. My pre-school had a station with random old pieces of computers & other appliances and that is where I usually was when we had free time. I had a strong art education throughout grade school, with my high school teacher encouraging us to submit our work to exhibitions in local galleries. I went to art school at James Madison University, and continued to show my work in small galleries locally and regionally. After graduating in 2017, I taught elementary art part-time to support my studio practice, and in 2019 I was able to leave the teaching job and focus on making art full-time.
You have two really distinct bodies of work – one uses weathered, found materials to create colorful assemblage pieces, while the other uses resin. How did each of these series evolve individually, and how do you see them in relation to one another?
I used to make paintings on conventional singular panels and canvases. One day 3 or 4 years ago, I had two paintings sitting next to each other in the studio, and I liked the way they looked together, so I attached them like that. Eventually I started cutting up the panels to re-assemble, and that evolved into the cut-wood assemblage paintings that I make now.
The resin pieces are a bit newer. Originally I was inspired by a puddle of glossy, wet paint spilled on the floor. I tried to replicate that with different types of paint, but the paint was never as glossy once it dried. I started using resin to get the effect of wet paint. Over time, this series has shifted from the original idea to become more about light, texture, and color relationships.
I love having two different bodies of work to bounce between. It keeps me always motivated, curious, and inspired. About the time I’m tired of one thing, I am overflowing with an urge to do the other.
You say that you tend to play a game in the studio where “the only rule is that you cannot buy new materials.” Tell us more about this process – where do you source the things you do use, and how do you fit everything together to accomplish the finished piece?
Yes - my series of small “Junk Drawer” pieces is composed entirely of scraps from other works. I enjoy the challenge of only being able to use what’s on hand. Scarcity forces innovation, and often I discover new ideas through these small works that carry over to the larger works. For the larger works, most of the material I use is ¼” birch plywood from the hardware store, but the idea of using found objects and materials is pervasive. I often peruse antique or architectural salvage stores for items with interesting marks or textures to incorporate into my work - old yardsticks, rulers, trim/moulding, old wooden toys, etc.
I once was asked “Do you use old materials, or are you just trying to make things that look old?” In addition to occasionally using actual old objects, the goal is not to try and make things look old, but rather to develop a history of mark-making. Each painting is a record of my own process of discovery - layering, removing, scratching, sanding, scraping. This results in the weathered look of my work.
Is the use of found/reused objects linked to, or important to, the message or intention behind your work, or do the two elements run more parallel to one another?
Using found/reused objects and materials is not only important, but central to the intention behind the wood assemblage pieces. It gives me such an interesting jumping off point. I respond to these found objects either by making marks directly on them, or by using them as inspiration for the shapes & colors throughout the rest of the piece.
What is your favorite, or the most rewarding, part of your creative process?
I love when a painting finds the perfect home - when it’s clear that a collector takes the work seriously, with good lighting, and all of the other elements of the room are in harmony. My paintings are made to be seen and lived with, and the process never feels quite complete until that happens.
For the resin pieces, the process of pouring and curing resin is so tedious and delicate. When I go to bed the night after pouring resin on a batch of new pieces, my mind is racing considering what could’ve gone wrong since I left the studio. When I go into the studio the next morning and find that they have cured perfectly, it feels like Christmas morning. I am always so delighted with how brilliant they look.
What is the most challenging part of your creative process?
The beginning stages of the assemblage pieces are always daunting, when I consider how many steps there are between me and a finished painting. I never know exactly how my pieces will look when they are finished, and it can be tough to just start painting shapes and lines when I don’t know exactly what I’ll end up doing with them. It’s hard to put so much energy into something that might just get cut up or painted over.
For the resin pieces, as I mentioned, the pouring and curing process is very challenging. My garage studio is pretty dusty, so to ensure there is little to no airflow in the room, I have to turn off the A/C in the studio, which means it is often over 100°. Resin is very finicky, as I’ve found, and the tiniest error can ruin several days’ worth of work.
Do you ever find that using found or scrap materials as the foundation of your assemblage work can feel limiting? Or does it present the opposite effect for you?
No, quite the opposite! I think it would feel more limiting (or rather, paralyzing) to just start with nothing. Often, the materials I’m using actually provide a source of inspiration for the work.
Where do you tend to find (or look for) inspiration?
One place I’ve looked to for inspiration recently is board games. This past Thanksgiving, I was at my grandparents’ house and found some old games in the cabinet. I was captivated with the shapes, graphics, patterns, fonts, and colors of the board, score sheets, and game pieces.
The two assemblage pieces we carry at Sorelle are titled Baltic Ave I and II. Where did this title come from? How do you approach titling your work?
These pieces were named after one of my favorite properties to buy when playing Monopoly, continuing with the inspiration coming from board games. I don’t take titling too seriously. I keep a list of interesting words and phrases in my phone and use those as titles. In the same way that the work is made, when something feels right I just go with it and try not to over-analyze.
How did you end up finding a comfortable space for two bodies of work (assemblage and resin) that at first glance, are quite different from one another – whether just in creating them, or showcasing them both coming from you as a single artist – especially in the Instagram age when everything seemingly needs to have a brand attached to it?
If anything, I’ve only received positive feedback for having created and exhibited these two starkly different bodies of work. It doesn’t seem like something that many artists do, and so most people seem to be delightfully surprised. When creating them, I only work on one body of work at a time. I do need to be in very different head-spaces for each one.
Are there any particular artists who have inspired you or to whom you feel connected in some way?
Yes! Currently, my favorite artists are Taylor White, who creates humorous, frantic illustrations combined with collage/assemblage work; and Donald Martiny, who makes monumental, free-form, 3-D brushstrokes. I also love the work of Gary Komarin and Sarah Boyts Yoder who both have such a fresh sense of color and composition that never gets old.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself as a younger artist, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to set goals and level-up! I think I would have progressed a lot faster if I’d just been honest with myself about what I wanted, instead of being fearful of the steps it would take to get there.
Taking a broader view, what is your goal as an artist?
My primary goals are to challenge myself creatively and have fun, which go hand-in-hand. I also think it’s important that my work makes it out into the world and becomes a part of someone else’s life.
Ok, pivoting a bit: Tea or coffee?
Do Frappuchinos count?
Morning person or night owl?
Definitely morning; I’m usually in bed by 9:30.
Mountains or beach?
Cake or pie?
Marie Calendar’s Apple Pie
Finally: What’s your favorite place on earth?
Pisgah National Forest, NC
Click below for the full studio tour and live Q&A.