Matthew Ronay


Repeat the Sounding


Berlin, Germany
February 23 – April 13, 2013


Nocturnal Tuft With Testis 
Basswood, suede, cotton thread, plastic, dye, steel 
179cm x 81cm x 70cm


Portal Probed By Wand Terminating In Turquoise 

Basswood, purple heart, cotton thread, plastic,  
shellac based primer, dye, steel 
129cm x 93cm x 47cm



Installation view:

is the shadow
Marc Foxx
Los Angeles, CA
September 12 - October 17 2009


Tabletop Arrangement 
MDF, wood, paint 
Dimensions may vary: 
9 3/8 x 28 x 13 inches


A:  What is your process? I notice in your earlier work the objects were toy like and very pristine - were those all handmade?

M:  Yeah, everything I do is made by hand.  I use tools but nothing is cast or anything like that.  It was all MDF for the most part.  

A:  Is that labor intensive process a form of ritual? 

M:  I’m a really routine oriented person.  I gain a lot of strength from my routine.  Even the process of getting dressed to do certain kinds of work can be ritualistic; but, I think for me, depending on what kind of process I’m doing - if it’s a really repetitive process than I definitely get into a trance in order to endure the repetitive nature of the process.  I don’t know if it’s so much ritual as it is meditative.  Thoughts are flowing in and out of my mind while i work; but, I’m not dwelling on whether they are good or bad.  

A:  They just are what they are.

M:  Yeah, I think a lot of the processes I use are now processes.  They are not based on the future or the past - it’s just watching wood disappearing or something.  I think with drawing I have a similar approach - you can call it doodling but I think it’s more of a process of watching something unfold and not judging whether its going to become something, like a great sculpture or finished drawing, or something that gets thrown away.  Its a nonjudgemental area.  

One kind of ritualistic aspect of working with tools is that tools have a tone.  Like the same way that if you use the sounds of a bowl or a bell as a tool to meditate.  Particular tools have a tone as well.  As the tool touches the material it slows the process down and you get in this weird zone based around the tones and the tools.  

A:  That’s so great to think of the tools as a melody.  

M:  One process where you can see it happening is this particular piece that was made by creating lines back and fourth and back and fourth.  As the tool goes down it creates this weird sound - some of my studio mates say it sounds like a lamb crying.  It has this weird quality that it gets you into the zone and I find that comforting as the day passes.  Especially if you have to do a lot of a particular kind of thing, maybe in the beginning you get a little panicked because you’re thinking “oh my god I have to fucking do three weeks of this” But then somewhere in the middle you build up a lot of strength. 

A:  And then you even look forward to the task.  

M:  Yeah.  I think for me what is important about the handmade, I’ve heard this said, is that if you use a tool, not necessarily an art tool - maybe even like a pair of scissors that is made by hand, you are almost participating with the person who made it. For example, you can have a really nice handmade knife and as you’re using it you participate with the person who put their love and care into making it, while you’re putting your love and care into using for your own purpose.  

I think its also true for art made by hand.  Certain ideas benefit from some distance between the maker and the thing made; however, if your goal is less intellectual/theoretical and more intuitive and emotional than I think you can really benefit from a process where it takes all your energy, time and desires to make something.  So when you experience looking at it, you bring what you bring to it as well but you feel the energy transference. 

A: I want to go back to something you said about drawing - I am kind of blown away by having the ability to just let something be.  Have you always been able to let go like that? 

M:  For one thing, when you work in a small sketchbook there is a lot less commitment.  The commitment that it takes to make something good or bad is minimal in this form.  So as you go from page to page you don’t feel like these pages ever have to come out of the book and be viewed by someone else.  I think the physical form of a book is nice, if you don’t like what you’ve done you can just turn the page.  If you can find a style that allows you to get your ideas onto the page quickly you can make 100 drawings in a day and you’ll probably have at least one good one.  I think all forms of practice are based on the idea of failure.  For example with happiness or fulfillment or spiritual completion a lot of people have the idea that there is a magical thing that will make you happy - a lot of consumerism is based on that idea.  But the thing is with practice its 70% failure and that is what life is.  Of course sometimes you succeed, but when you do you should know you’re going to fail again.  And when you fail you should know that you can have another chance to succeed.  I think drawing really encompasses that idea.  All practices are based on that idea, it’s called practice because you don’t always get it right.  You just have to believe that you’ll eventually get something right.  

T:  Do you show that part of your work?  Are the failures a part of it or do you just focus on the finished piece?

M:  I always try to have a little bit of ugliness within the beauty.  I think it helps within a piece to have a contrast between the failures and successes.  But for the most part I share what I think is most successful with the work. In the earlier more cartoonish work, the sculptures were almost replicas of the drawings.  And when I changed my work I allowed the process to dictate a second round of decision making.  I sometimes think the work gets more raw and less controlled.  As I continue to work, especially when I’m cutting wood a lot of the times I’m trying to make this one shape, and then that piece that falls off the machine and I’m left with, this negative shape, and I find I’m usually really attracted to that piece.  This isn’t exactly a mistake, but it wasn’t my intention.  I think creativity always works that way.  Its similar in terms of looking at yourself. You build up an idea of who you are and then you’re denying this whole other side.  But if you could somehow step outside of yourself and look at that part you’re trying to ignore you might realize that it actually has a lot to do with your actions and views.  I think it’s a good analogy for a lot of things.  

A:  A lot of you’re forms are reminiscent of forms from nature, some of them look like they could be homages to mountains for instance.  I know I keep on coming back to the idea of ritual; but, I’m curious - what is the relationship between someone living in New York City, in the 21st century to nature or to spirituality? 

M:  I think it’s hard in New York.  I have a very isolated lifestyle. Which helps me focus. I can be social sometimes, but I don’t really go out that much.  I spend a lot of time in my studio by myself thinking and working.  I think that isolation gives me a tiny bit of perspective on myself which is what spirituality is to me.  Even if you practice in an organized way, I think the relationship is (or should) always be personal. 

In terms of nature, I think it’s really difficult.  I often think about how a lot of artists in recent history have had a country house or some kind of retreat.  I think being alone without being lonely is really important to the creative process.  To be comfortable to be by yourself and not feel like you need someone else or an idea as a scratching post and to just be alone with your thoughts is really important.  I isolate myself a little bit to get that but it can be hard in New York.  

But with these kinds of mountain shapes to me it can be read many different ways.  I can see a mountain or a setting sun.  But, I also see these as orifices: like eyeballs and tears, or nostrils and mucous.  I think that’s true in nature though too:  a single image or form can have double or triple interpretations, really it can be infinite.  As they multiply out and get bigger, they also get smaller. Like the Eames movie the Powers of Ten.  As far as you go inward to see the veins and vascular networks, and then go out to see galaxies you see that everything mimics itself.  From the smallest cell to the largest universe everything has similar geometry and balance.  While it would be nice to have somewhere I could go to be with nature more, you can see the natural sense of order without that.  

A:  It provides a really great sense of comfort to think that what is outside in the whole universe can be found right inside yourself.  

Can I ask about your relationship to color?

M:  Well, I’m colorblind.  I’m red green color blind, so anything with red or green is difficult to put a word to.  I often have to ask someone “is this purple?”  When I use color, like now I am using a lot of color but I go though periods where I don’t use much because its difficult.  For that reason I tend to use a lot of saturated colors because they are easier to see.  My relationship to color is complex, but I feel like it gives me a lot of respect for it.  I think everyone sees color differently though.  A lot of scientists are saying we aren’t actually sure what color is outside of our own minds.  

I went through a 3-4 year period where I would only use the color of the material.  Like purple leathers, pink or dark woods, things that weren’t painted I should say. I really enjoyed that because I didn’t have to think about the color so much.  But as much as you gain by having a natural or minimal palette, in terms of seriousness (like dark Caravaggio paintings that have a great weight) you lose a little bit of joy and openness of celebration - I think that’s why I brought color back.  

A:  There is a really wonderful lightness in your work.  I don’t know if you want your work to be interacted with, but that fun quality makes the viewer want to go up and touch them or rearrange them or something which is really great.  

M:  When I changed up some things in my work I found that I was really attracted to works that are made not just to add to the discussion of art history, but works that were made for ritualistic use or just use in general, like maps, or a costume or musical instrument.  Most of the things I got really excited about were things that people had to make because they were useful. I can’t necessarily make that kind of work because I don’t belong to that kind of longstanding tradition.  When I use ritual or spirituality its fantasy based.  Objects that are useful have a lot more weight than objects that are made just to add to the discussion of art - for me, anyway.  Like a daybed by Donald Judd does more for me than the things that he’s more known for. Not to say that design is higher or better than anything, but there is something very personal about use that adds something. 

A:  I also love when utilitarian objects were crafted with a certain aesthetic.  I feel like it shows that beauty has a use too.  It’s weird because art is unnecessary and extravagant, but it’s something that people have never lived without.  

In terms of language - do you see your objects as symbols or words? 

M:  At different times different ways.  Sometimes I can interpret a work almost forensically like I look at it and think “this maybe means this when it’s in line with this”  but that can be really tiresome.  My goal with making things is to experience new thoughts and crack myself open.  I think that if you expect to be able to explain your work when your are finished making it than there is non leverage to crack yourself open because you are just staying at the border of your mind.  On one hand, I think if you want to infect someone with your disease it’s more effective to spread it with language, but visuals and symbols are nowhere near that level of efficiency.  That kind of misunderstanding and slippage is one of the great things about making art - language is sort of the same way, but we can agree more on what words mean. 

A:  Is your process a method of escaping something or getting closer towards something - of course it can be both, I’m just curious how you see it?

M:  It’s hard to say.  I depends on my frame of mind.  But if we open up the concept to be outside of me, personally - I like to think of it in terms of a witnessing, objectiveness.  I don’t think of it as escaping as much as witnessing something happen.  That doesn’t mean you don’t experience it - it just means you experience it without judgement.  The reason why a lot of works I’ve made over the last couple of years have a mystical quality is because I feel lacking of that mystical quality within myself so I’m trying to create it.  I feel disconnected and am looking to connect.