The art forms that move us most deeply are those which, it has been said, clarify, intensify or enlarge our experience. This perhaps is achieved best through sculpture because we can readily identify emotionally, physically and spatially with the surrogate people we see.
But only the true artist can transcend the limitations imposed by the human figure. Kay Ritter has done it, with 15 cloth mache sculptures, on view until Aug. 3 at Capricorn Galleries, 4849 Rugby Ave., Bethesda.
"I'm constantly on the prowl for new talent, and it has paid off," said gallery owner Phil Desind. "I first saw Kay Ritter's work in New York's Soho district, but it took me over a year to find her."
This is the second one-woman show of Ritter's works Desind has mounted within a year. The figures are charming, witty, and irrestible characterizations of people we all know. And they rivet our attention. We are at first spellbound, absorbed in the extraordinary technique used in their creation. Then, looking at these half-life-size caricatures, we begin to see things we've never seen before. They heighten our awareness of the essence of everyday life. Without idealism, they show us just as we are, and we get to know ourselves.
Ritter studied at the Philadelphia College of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design, but her resume also elaborates on her jobs as a restaurant kitchen manager, promoter of a bakery and helper in a greenhouse -- all experiences that undoubtedly informed her art work.
Since 1976, Ritter has been self-employed as an artist working exclusively in fabric mache. "My figures are constructed from a variety of fabrics that are saturated with glue or paste and applied to a wire mesh armature, which is built around a plastic-pipe frame. The pieces are painted with acrylic varnish," she explains.
The rough cloth surfaces are expressively modeled, while still wet, to approximate aging skin textures and ill-fitting, rumpled clothes. Light reflected from the uneven surfaces implies mvement, as does space flowing through the open forms. The shift in scale, the suspended poses, the telling gestures, the life-like expressions and the factory-made props, clothes and shoes all serve to animate the figures.
Although Ritter's sculptures allude to reality, they are intensified abstractions-in-art of their living prototypes. The poignancy of some of their expressions contrasts to the fun-filled ambiance they create as they sit, stand, dance and fly about the room! They're a delight.