P.M. Ritchie, A Sense of Place Paintings and Prints, 1974-1989

Curatorial Statement by Bryan Ryley, Artist and Associate Professor, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, University of British Columbia Okanagan

P.M. Ritchie A Sense of Place Paintings and Prints 1974-1989
1989, Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops, BC
1990 Grand Forks Art Gallery, Grand Forks, BC
1991 Maple Ridge Art Gallery, Maple Ridge, BC 

I have become involved in the selection of this exhibition of Percival Ritchie’s work because I believe it deals with issues which are central to her concerns and which for the rest of us are becoming increasingly important. The central theme developed throughout this work speaks about the relationship of man to the natural environment. Questions of communication, or shared responsibilities, of stewardship, of direction, and of the seeming difficulty of man to do justice to this interaction with our natural world are first presented in a rather melancholic light later to find a brighter and more optimistic tone.

Working with a palette of close-valued greys, greens, blues, reds and yellows, Ritchie presents her figures and man-made structures submersed in the land. Figure-ground distinctions are played at a minimum. In an early painting, Fog in the Window, St. Lawrence, Québec, and an exterior force obscures and overwhelms the potential for the view out the window. Clarity is diffused, masked. Questions of dominance and stability come to mind. Works such as Self Portrait continue this theme, here presenting a figure striding, alone, the land complex and weighty. Again clarity and form is hidden and one senses the power and vulnerability in the flux of this environment.

What is readily apparent here is Ritchie’s desire to test the tension in these relationships. In her painting, A Man, His Son, and His Barn, Québec, a quieter more fragile light is presented, figures are more distinct and appear to be involved in a serious and somewhat timeless discussion. The figure of the son feels dwarfed by both man and barn, appearing somewhat out of context and separate from the light shared by the other two. A Man and a Woman continues this and offers anecdotal quality of personal history. Again a somewhat vacant dialogue is presented, its contemplative tone suggestive of an important matter. Here too, the light is fragile and one begins to sense the metaphorical use of this element.

Paintings such as Evening and Pruner offer a richer, more full-bodied light and a greater distinction between figure and background. Here again the contemplative tone suggests an endless quality. Both man and environment are more definitely modeled sharing a weight and clarity, yet presented featureless and in silent communication. In each case the land is open and rolling and in the Pruner presents both its natural bounty and its husbanded crop, this is a dormant state, its fruit ripened and gone. Here again Ritchie evokes the figure-ground relationship pointing to its symbolic nature.

In the painting entitled Ocean 3 Pacific, a more optimistic mood is presented. The light is more gay, the distinction of land and man-made structure more at ease. In this work Ritchie seems to present a calling to the land and offers the moon as a window to the soul of both entities. A communication appears to have opened up. Subsequent works such as The Sea and Waiting 2 offer greater numbers of figures, the gathering suggesting a greater wholeness. Figures are more active, colour is heightened and individuation increased. We feel the unity of the family and a more energetic brotherhood. We are presented with the figure front, back and side. The light is warmer, movement more relaxed and purposeful.

Where the T’Lel Meets the Sea offers what appears to be a culmination in Ritchie’s discourse between man and land, figure and ground. A very satisfying light is achieved which remains clear and diffuse at the same time. There is a commonality here, a joining. The large serpentine shape of the river appears to have mesmerized the human onlookers and enveloped them into its form. Structure is more definite, the pace picked up, values are more fully developed yet maintain their closeness. A sense of unity is achieved her, the light both warm and cool.

From this point Ritchie offers a final testament in her Canoe, T’Lel, Queen Charlotte Islands. In this work a figure in a canoe is presented at the crossroads of the river meeting the sea. At this joining he is met by a bright and expansive light. His direction to the sea is clear, he feels buoyant and prepared, the painting quality has become lighter and looser.

Percival Ritchie has gone on to examine these themes of communication, of shared responsibilities, of stewardship, and of mankind’s direction in her prints as well as in her paintings. In these a larger, less regional viewpoint is examined bringing together the major nations of the world. It is the persistence to pursue these larger questions coupled with her love for the tactility of her materials and her vision that stand Ritchie well within our regard. Her questions are our questions. Her resolutions hopefully mirror of our own.

Bryan Ryley
December, 1988