Artist’s Stunning, Homegrown Crystal Sculptures Will Decay for Trillions of Years

Artist’s Stunning, Homegrown Crystal Sculptures Will Decay for Trillions of Years
Arts & Culture

Using relatively feeble organic matter and mighty liquid bismuth, Chris Ritson engages with our relationships to life, death, dreams, and nature

Janet Burns
  • 11 december 2014

A rash of high-tech and mixed-media artists have recently stolen the spotlight in both the fine art and pop culture worlds, making abstract, post-modern mashups the relative norm. One artist has been spending his time, however, working to represent humankind’s complex relationship with nature by performing modern-day alchemy: he gathers organic and chemical ingredients, mixes them together, and patiently watches his work grow into its own remarkable forms.

Working from his hometown of Honolulu, HI, mixed media artist Chris Ritson has long been fascinated with the rich variety of environmental forces — from growth and decay to silently fierce fungal invasions — affecting life itself in Hawaii and elsewhere. Most recently, the internationally shown artist has been exploring a new love of growing stunning, multifaceted bismuth crystals on a series of carefully chosen objects.


As his project page explains, bismuth is “an archival element” which crystalizes into a “distinct hopper-shaped form” under specific synthetic conditions. In addition to being chemically similar to arsenic and antimony and quite difficult to work with (and, as the chemical’s Wiki entry notes, having an alpha decay half life of “more than a billion times the estimated age of the universe”), the element elicits physical and visual representations of time and the human experienced when crystalized, Ritson noted. “This crystalline structure and multicolored lattice of cubes-within-cubes is utilized to simulate the Tesseract, a 4th Dimensional cube,” he explained. “Imagine the Tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square.” He went on,

In our thoughts, as well as dreams, we construct a reality within countless imperceptible dimensions, and the realm of the Tesseract is the first that evades our five senses. As artwork is meant to herald a great movement in the viewer into unknown lands of experience, these works are manifestations of the great mythic beacons of ineffable transmissions […] all linked to the bridge that connects [us to those] truths beyond the body.


In a similar vein, his previous works with crystal-growing “placed value on natural systems and mankind’s ability to integrate positively with them.” Collecting material and inspiration from “the natural detritus of his immediate surroundings,” his sculptures — often involving the bones, carcasses, and shapes of animals — offer seemingly alien but, in fact, very terrestrial visions of life, decay, and form. They also reveal, like his work with bismuth, the inherent complexity in such a simple substance as sugar, which forms magnificent yet impermanent surfaces and shapes when crystalized.


He’s alternately used very ‘unnatural’ and processed materials such as magazines and island brochures (also cast off or disused) to represent natural occurrences of life through sculpture and video, as with scenes of wolves hunting or an island’s weather cycles passing. Ritson’s celebration of earth’s natural wonders, however, doesn’t shy away from dips into the surreal: in addition to engaging dream-like, extra-sensory realms of thought, he allows occasional cameos from dream-made monsters such as unicorns and leviathans.


These different mediums and perspectives, he explained, allow him to “speak to our cultural anxieties and relationships with nature, analyzing the myths and prerogatives specific to a psychology of the self” with his work. Using bones, magazine pages, and even simple sugar, he added, also assists him with his goal to “reconfigure the most elemental substances into objects and phenomena that elicit unique temporal wonders.”


His concern, he explained, is not simply the formal beauty of his recent bismuth creations but also the technique behind them, one he developed to “express a phenomena of nature which is incredibly complex” but also very low tech and (literally) hands-on to produce. He hopes to develop a practice which is “dedicated to the research and application of aesthetic expression or embellishment as a partnership with nature” — similar to the aim of agriculture, he noted, but with art as the product. This, he hopes, will help us define and, perhaps, refine how we see ourselves and our identities among the natural order of the world.


Looking forward, Ritson plans to begin researching CCA (calcourous coraline alea) — an algae responsible for “cementing” the elements of coral reefs together, and in fact making up a large part of each reef — and explore using its growth forms as an art medium. His primary goal, he explained, is to (slowly) “grow ‘paintings’ that will be archival once dead, while also highlighting environmental issues related to reefs.” As he pointed out, Hawaii’s own coral reefs — which help in harboring 25% of the earth’s biodiversity underwater, and are the U.S.’s only resource for catching and importing aquarium fish — are currently undergoing acid-driven breakdowns but also the possibly threatening overabundance of algae growth. He noted, “there’s not a lot of research on growing coraline algae,” but the artist is hoping to find collaborators among Hawaii’s many oceanological research groups in the near future.


Ritson’s newer work will be included in an upcoming, crystal-centered exhibit at the Esther Klein Gallery at the University City Science Center in Philadelphia, scheduled to open on Thursday, February 5th, 2015. A large amount of his work is also visible on his website, and available for sale in his Etsy shop.

Chris Ritson

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