Maureen Paley is pleased to present David Ratcliff’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. For the past several years Ratcliff, who is based in Los Angeles, has worked on a painting project, using handmade stencils and spray-paint as tools for rendering chaotic, yet casual, seemingly untouched surfaces. Over time, Ratcliff’s paintings have moved towards abstraction from their initially figurative roots.
Abstraction has begun to occupy a dominant position in David Ratcliff’s work, as the visual noise that crept into his earlier narrative pictures mutates into the central structuring presence. The series of paintings entitled Mirror began with recognisable images, which were then cut and re-combined into compositions where the images become largely unreadable. These forms are then reflected as an immediate way to bring order to the composition. The results resemble Rorschach tests where dark forms reveal themselves over time.
DR: The paintings begin as digital collages I put together using images that are nearly always gathered from online sources. For the first show, an influence on the work would be the wording – the parameters I would choose to dictate the image-search results, usually a single noun: pure-breed, platinum, stereo-remote, collage, bong. The somewhat stark limitation and focus on multiple examples of a single type of thing reduced the kinds of relationships within the paintings, creating a psychologically flat space. More recently, the bulk of the material I’ve gathered has been by way of random image result pages with no keyword input. Without placing language constraints on the search parameters, I find photographs or whole groups of pictures I could not have anticipated, and this has supported the work as the paintings have grown more ‘painterly’ over time and I’ve become more willing to render images as nearly unreadable.
BN: What are some of the unexpected images that have come up in these searches?
DR: What ends up being really unexpected is often that which would be most difficult to categorize. I’ll get a group of vacation photos from some family and one will have something that really works in a way that isn’t exactly one thing or another. You have to sift. Of course I’ll also run into more specific material, like a photo of a noose with an American flag attached to the top and a handwritten sign reading ‘for sale swing set’, or a group of kindergarten kids finger-painting, or scanned pages from some personal notebook, or a guy with his front teeth carved to read ‘2006,’ and this might inspire a more targeted search for similar images.
BN: You were talking about how the paintings are made…
DR: After the collage is assembled, it’s printed onto sheets of standard office paper which are then combined to create what is essentially one large sheet of paper the size of the canvas I intend to use. I cut the image out with an X-Acto knife and then re-assemble it on the surface of the canvas, creating the mask. The final step in most cases is then to use spray-paint to apply the image. The process is one of a gradual loss of control and step-by-step detachment. When I’m putting the image together with a select group of images, single-pixel changes can be made, and each stage afterwards introduces chance/accident to a greater degree, ending with the damage and curling of the paper stencil, and pieces falling off the canvas sometimes obscuring or sticking to parts of the image.
from David Ratcliff with Bob Nickas in David Ratcliff: Defect’s Mirror, 2008
For this exhibition, Ratcliff aligns himself with two very disparate fiction generators – Paul Klee and J.G. Ballard. The power of fiction to envelope a reader was key to Ratcliff’s choice of those figures as sources of inspiration for these new paintings. Ratcliff states, “It is interesting to me to join Klee and Ballard in my mind. There is something intimate and almost loving about Klee’s works and there is something vulgar and hateful about Ballard’s “spinal landscapes ”that are in contrast to one another, yet somehow sit together as well. Maybe that’s because they share a stance in relation to the present. And they are both silent, Ballard like concrete and Klee like sleep. When thinking of this numb matter-of-fact silence in Ballard and the nocturnal “primitive “silence of Klee, I see these new paintings as having a similar soundless quality, containing fear. Like drowning, but not so animated.”
Previous solo exhibitions include Defect’s Mirror, Team Gallery, New York, 2008, and Galerie Rodolphe Janssen in 2007. In 2008 Ratcliff was also included in The Hidden, Maureen Paley, London and That was then, This is now at PS1, New York, as well as I Love My Scene: Scene Two (curated by José Freire), Mary Boone Gallery, New York and New Paintings from L.A., Peres Projects, Berlin, both in 2006.