Miriam Hitchcock and Sarah Ratchye, like two sides of a forked tongue, steer eccentrically from their common base, but it's a base nonetheless. Incidentally, being a) females, and b) painters, only begins to scratch it. A more specific and compelling intersection is the cut-and-paste way they both isolate and block-in compositions. Human figures and technological forms, too, are common points of interest. Wrinkles, in all their manifold details, appear an unlikely mantra to share; yet I witness it. Concurrently showing at Bucheon, these two must fascinate or frustrate each other. The attitudes toward and applications of their common motives leave gulfs between their products. The attraction to wrinkles, for example, is framed by the opposite sentiments of fineness, in Ratchye's case, and dilapidation for Hitchcock. Ratchye's wrinkles are applied across taut canvas surfaces or wood panels or clean, flat paper as meticulous surface details. Hitchcock's wrinkles are not depictions; they are conditions of the physical treatment she imposes on her large, unframed paper sheets.
Fittingly then, Hitchcock is more apt at organic layering, sometimes blocking out parts of previously laid elements before redefining edges. Despite broad outlines and a silken vellum substrate, veiled to look otherwise, her work speaks to passing, movement, having moved, memory. Ironically, this temporal technique was borne of a sojourn to Costa Rica, apparently a trip that wouldn't let go. Her appliqué-type patchwork using newspapers of various origins gives the work an air of repair and respite. The choice of the daily newspaper is a loaded one, problematic in its overwhelming associations unless controlled. In Hitchcock's hands, it deftly comes off as a workaday tribute to changing time and place; no front-page headlines and no full-page advertisements, just language and a variety of languages to document her movements.
There's a sense of nostalgia in the movement, in the depictions of pre-Prius cars and affectionately focused observations of plants and figures. The effect is amplified by the nude tone of paper. Let me correct that: anemic nude tone. Truly juicy color application seeps into the beautiful nude wrinkles and sometimes abuts a ragtag gilding (executed with a metallic paint pen?). Through the fracturing of each compositional element, her vertical works don't feel tall, but long and yawning. like a list, n spite of vessels and shoots of flowers that accentuate the verticality.
In many ways, it's ineffectual to directly contrast Hitchcock's work with Sarah Ratchye's; as they're not always compatible. Not only do Ratchye's paintings tend to work on levels above and below Hitchcock's, but physically they're much more varied in size, mounting, material, and technique from piece to piece. For simplicity's sake, they can be reduced to two groups, Ikons and oils. "Ikons"-Ratchye's term-are small, virtuosic watercolor/mixed media reinventions of old Orthodox devotional pieces, now starring astronauts or cosmonauts, as it were. They are arrayed in grids of 12 or 16 and show various aspects of the lone astronaut as saint, untethered...or tethered inside the painting--you see how my mind wanders.
The oils, less a freehand bonanza than the Ikons, are very much dominated by their surface vitality. Here we have old technique, old-fashioned materials, and old times looking new, a deception opposite of Hitchcock's. Seemingly, Ratchye yanks the past forward and closes the loop. There's a stark visual intricacy executed in a paint-by-numbers mode in these larger pieces; somehow, it makes the Cold War even colder. She captures the metaphorical bombast that accompanies a "threat war" and insidiously insinuates technology as the new crown jewels. Conjuring Dr. Manhattan's Martian marvel from Watchmen, Ratchye's opulent space-race technology is never outshone by the pearls and gems to which they're compared.
The difference between Ratchye's work and Hitchcock's is the difference between memory and history. Ratchye's lone pioneer is universal and tragic; a recurrent crumpled funnel metaphorically speaks for the incessant unfolding and chaos of history. Her large pieces seem an epic jumble: history painting, still life, landscape, all together. Hitchcock's mélange bares the dissolution of the person, in spite of such peripheral perpetuity. In some ways, this tier is less tragic, regardless of memory's loss; individual lives represent choice and opportunity. When history's shackles seem inescapable, the decision to unclench our fists may allow us to slip out.
*Images, from top to bottom: "Relm uv StrAnj: Paintings by Sarah Ratchye; Paradise and Other Habitats, Paintings by Miriam Hitchcock": Bucheon Gallery, September 5--October 11, 2008. Sarah Ratchye, "FOrs FEld, 2008," watermedia on paper, 12 x 9. Sarah Ratchye, "SpAs BOrn, 2008," oil on canvas, 48 x 36. Miriam Hitchcock, " Stylist, 2008," mixed media on construction paper, 52" x 48." Miriam Hitchcock, "Hibiscus, 2007," mixed media on construction paper, 41" x 29." Sarah Ratchye, "Relm uv StrAnj, 2008," oil on panel, 48 X 36. Sarah Ratchye, "KrUltE uv Risk, 2007," watermedia on paper, 12 x 9. Miriam Hitchcock, "Sub-Door."
All images courtesy of the Artists and Bucheon Gallery.