Boo Ritson paints people, literally. Utilising the body as a canvas she applies a vivid colour palette of thick household emulsion across her sitters’ hair, skin and clothes to create American stereotypes. The air hostess, the waitress, the cowboy
Boo Ritson paints people, literally. Utilising the body as a canvas she applies a vivid colour palette of thick household emulsion across her sitters’ hair, skin and clothes to create American stereotypes. The air hostess, the waitress, the cowboy and cowgirl, the beauty pageant, the trucker, the cop: Ritson’s work – which blends sculpture, portraiture, performance art and photography – takes viewers on a sugar-coated road trip across the United States. Obsessed by the idea of "the American Dream", Ritson’s imagined narratives and character clichés are entirely of her own creation; rather than being anything to do with the person beneath the layers of paint. With only 20-minutes to create her masterpieces before the paint dries and is washed off, Ritson’s three-dimensional masks are incredibly short-lived, existing only as photographic documents shot by her photographer Andy Crawford.
Training in sculpture at the Royal College of Art, Ritson didn’t feel satisfied with working in one medium: "I wanted to do it all at the same time: I wanted to paint, do sculpture, performance, video…" Riston explained to AnOther, shortly after her talk at Crunch Festival in Hay. "One Christmas Eve – when you have that insane desire to be in the studio – I was in the bathroom and thought it would be a good idea to paint myself. I’d been ignoring it for about six months – it just seemed a stupid thing to do for various intellectual reasons and safe reasons – but then I realised it wasn’t so stupid, so I did it. My husband photographed me and it was good. The quiet voice in many ways is the best one but it is most ignored."
From there it all took off and Ritson started painting herself and everyone around her, including her friend, gallerist and frequent sitter Poppy Sebire whom she met at her Royal College of Art final show 12-years ago, "I’m most comfortable with the people I know and I happen to know some really attractive-looking people with good bones which is perfect." Attracting attention worldwide she has also been commissioned by various art collectors, indie-rock band The Maccabees to create the cover art for their second album Wall of Arms, and most recently for Garage magazine’s debut issue for which she painted the Jil Sander A/W11 collection onto models, "I’ll only paint people if I think they are the right canvas, if they’re not I won’t do it. With Garage I said exactly what I was looking for and they flew models over from New York. Not only were they incredibly beautiful but also incredibly patient."
Currently showing D is for Donut at Southampton City Art Gallery, her exhibition in March of next year will see a change of direction on her previous work, "The challenge is to remove the slapstick element and to take the work as it comes, slowly or quickly rather than as it manically happens on the day," Ritson tells. "I won’t be making just the portraits anymore but a landscape on a canvas which I’m putting people’s head through, so they become different. A lot of these punctured paintings I haven’t made yet but I recently constructed Bear Creek, Alabama (which is Poppy’s sister – keeping it in the family) out of a manipulated photography I took of my back garden. It exists in my head just like the portraits – they are all part of my utopian idea of the American Dream." Reminiscent of the faceless cutout boards "American looky-loos", whilst there is a clear progression from her previous work the underlying comedy, light-heartedness and escapism remains, "There’s always a sense of humour in my work. There is this notion of: here’s the image, let’s put your head through it, great, and make another image. You don’t get precious about that. They are slightly Vaudeville, why not?"
Text by Lucia Davies