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Photo courtesy of the artist and VSCO Artist Initiative™.

Aug 06, 2018

The Art of Nature

Photos by Chris Ritson and VSCO Artist Initiative

"I've always been concerned with how we understand and relate to the idea or reality of nature," says Chris Ritson, a generative artist who finds inspiration at the intersection of science and nature.

Growing up on O'ahu, Ritson felt a connection to the natural wonders of the islands and an intrinsic reverence for natural processes unique to Hawai'i. From his island perspective, he became aware of humanity's delicate dance with the natural world. "I believe the challenges humanity is facing, both in our society and environment, stem from an undeveloped relationship with nature, and my art is meant to stir the viewer to reconsider or explore this relationship."

A graduate of San Francisco Art Institute in New Genres, Ritson has taken a deep dive into his own relationship with the natural world through generative art, a facet of post modernism. By manipulating chemical or biological processes and sculpture, he creates living works of art that place value on natural systems and mankind's ability to understand and integrate positively with them, something he calls biogenerative aesthetics.

Ritson turned heads and sparked conversations with two biogenerative paintings at the inaugural Honolulu Biennial 2017, which featured public art installations from 33 renowned international and Hawai'i artists at venues such as Ward Village's iconic IBM Building, Honolulu Museum of Art, and verdant Foster Botanical Garden. Part science experiments and part living sculptures, Ritson showcased The Corallinales and Ganoderma, capturing the natural patterns of coralline algae and mushrooms (respectively) as the colonies developed in abstract forms in response to environmental conditions.

"The art community in Hawai'i and the Pacific region has a lot to say in the global dialogue, especially with what's going on now with environment and politics. It's a very special place for the world to be looking at," says Ritson. He's excited and extremely humbled to be a part of Honolulu's burgeoning art scene and simultaneously weighing in on our most pressing environmental issues.

For his work titled, The Corallinales, Ritson collected bits of trash from south shore reefs—broken sunglasses, a discarded water bottle—covered in brightly colored coralline algae, the algae responsible for literally building the hard, calcified structure of coral reefs in Hawai'i. The algae were placed in an aquaculture system with elevated carbon dioxide levels and higher temperature to mimic future ocean conditions, one effect of climate change. Two-dimensional panels in the system captured the organisms that could withstand the warm acidic water. Their white calcium skeletons fused to the black panels, creating an autonomous biological "painting."

Ganoderma explored the relationship between invasive and native species. Sawdust from invasive trees cleared during native reforestation projects on Mt. Tantalus provided the "paper" from which the profusion of local fungal fruit, responding to environmental condition, would become a unique art production. Ritson is able to preserve the mushroom paintings through an organic, sustainable process using beeswax and tree sap.

The final products of these artistic experiments are not merely the hanging panels covered in constellations of coralline exoskeletons or the abstract profusions of white-lipped fungal fruits. Ritson sees these initial, conceptual works of art as a means to establish a process of art production that will contribute positively to the environment. For his coralline project, he envisions stage two as an open outdoor system, where his works can be grown much larger and much faster, all while having a positive impact on the reef.

"My new work must be able to manifest its own composition, do so with positive impact to the environment, and leave an artifact that can be indefinitely preserved as a document of the artwork," says Ritson, "which really is my relationship, and collaboration, with the organism."

As Honolulu continues to assert itself as a harbor for the arts, it's refreshing to see the likes of local artists like Ritson creatively shifting the public's perception. Because after all, the beauty of art is the layer of thought it provokes. As a young artist with what surely be decades of celebrated work ahead him, we'll be keeping a keen eye on Ritson and are looking forward to seeing what he imaginative medium he embraces next.

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