Sculptor Matthew Ronay kicks off his first show with Casey Kaplan this month in New York, Betrayals of and by the Body, a fitting intro to the artist’s expressive sculptural language and his vivid sense of space and form. An adventurous and inventive voice in modern American sculpture, Ronay’s work conjures a range of links and ties between biological processes and transcendent spiritual elements, cells, mandalas, limbs and devotionals are transformed into a fluid structural language.
Ronay’s work over the past few years has been increasingly complex and intriguing, mining a range of textual materials and physical forms to present series of works that imagine and reimagine the sculpture as a site for discovery and encounter, for experiencing a world beyond that of the quotidian surroundings of modernity, while also serving as a cipher for the processes and powers that ultimately animate this same world from day to day.
Made with vibrantly colored basswood, Ronay’s sculptures are skillfully crafted by hand; each component carved, sanded, dyed and jointed together into colorful configurations that visually defy their wooden medium. Organic forms oscillate between the primordial and the futuristic, dwelling on languages of modernist abstraction and classical form, while also paying homage to forbears in West Coast sculpture that clearly sit close to Ronay’s formal interests. Yet these pieces, imbued with a more concrete interest in the physical world, or more specifically, the microscopic world, maintains a connection to the phenomena of life in a way that previous generations of abstract sculptors seemed only to allude to in text. They move in and out of organic shapes and forms, and often twist these biological signifiers into strange new shapes, ones that seem to echo the otherworldly dreamworlds in a manner that lends the objects a spiritually transcendent property.
The artist’s work in this particular show dwells on concepts of discomfort and vulnerability: nakedness, sexuality, digestion, disease and aging, while engaging with a broader variety of reference materials, both sourced and imagined. Figures morph beyond the corporeal, resulting in surreal abstractions of plant and ocean life, molecular and cellular formations, cityscapes, artificial intelligence, metabolic systems, cybernetics, and microscopic bacteria. The stark, wooden forms auffwar a sort of commonality across these sphere of life, organic and nonorganic, on this planet. Ronay’s work, connecting together these disparate elements, presents as an exploration of invisible systems linking together living phenomena, and dispelling with easy assumptions of physical autonomy or rigid lines between body and soul.
The show closes June 15th.
— C. Rinehart
Matthew Ronay: Betrayals of and by the Body [Exhibition Site]