Chips, Hotdog and Cup, 2009
Boo Ritson has an unusual way of creating her portraits. Instead of painting a sitter who poses passively from afar, Ritson actively involves her models in the creation of her work, by painting directly on their skin and clothes and photographing the results. Her images are a mixture of her own narratives with recognisable motifs of Americana, including an abundance of greasy fast food that oozes paint trails of ketchup and mustard. Currently showing across two gallery spaces in London is a new series of work by Ritson, which continues this fascination with the cheaper end of American culture – The Diner, at Alan Cristea Gallery, and The Gas Station, at Poppy Sebire’s pop-up space at 36 North Audley Street. The two shows come together to form Back-Roads Journeys.
“The story for this show came out of a title – Back-Roads Journeys – and what I might expect to find on the roads less travelled,” says Ritson. “I chose to locate one set of works in a small-town diner, and the other at a gas station, and began to construct a narrative that might unite the two. There are two central characters who meet and decide to travel onwards together.”
The Diner Waitress, 2009
As Ritson requires the paint to be wet when the photographs of her sitters are taken, the process of creating a work is inevitably an intense one, with the artist making rapid decisions against the clock. “It has been my practice to define a story that would hold a series of characters,” she says. “The costumes and people that then become the canvas have colours, poses and situations that reflect their roles and create a framework for me to explore the process of painting in a manageable way. The more decisions I can make before I get to the very fast and chaotic part when I paint and document it before it dries, the better.”
“I like to paint people I know,” she continues. “Especially those I have painted before, because I can take my understanding of the way paint sits on their surface a bit further each time. I choose new people for the way they fit a particular character, so for height, bone-structure etc. For this show, as I’m exploring a new way of working, I have used very few new sitters.”
The Trucker, 2009
Ritson’s process for this series has seen her move slightly away from the super-bright images in her previous series, and introduce large sections of white to her portraits. “Earlier this year I became very interested in unfinished portraits and how they communicate differently from works where the artists has covered the canvas, making the illusion complete,” she explains. I started from the assumption that I would be choosing to use areas of colour that were ‘finished’ and then painting larger areas of white that were ‘unfinished’: it gave me a new way to look at how and where I would use colour, one that started to develop a language of shapes and their relationships to each other.” This introduction of white paint to her works also adds a more obvious sculptural aspect to the portraits, with the sitters at times echoing white marble statues.
Burger and Can, 2009. All images courtesy the artist, Alan Cristea Gallery and Poppy Sebire
Alongside her art series, Ritson has also painted sitters for commercial projects, including the Maccabees for their recent album cover. In an interview with the Guardian, lead singer Orlando Weeks described the process of being painted by the artist: “We felt a bit like hostages on a firing line, except it was enjoyable and exciting, even as the cold emulsion seeped through to the skin.” Luckily for her models though, Ritson has limited time to complete her portraits. “[Each work] can take anything from half-an-hour to over an hour,” she says. “But this is the limit of time that I have managed to keep the paint wet in order to document it. The longer the painting part carries on, the more frantic it gets.”
Both of Boo Ritson’s London exhibitions will continue until November 21. More info is at poppysebire.com.