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Friday, April 28, 2017

Christopher Ritson: 2017 Honolulu Biennial Artist by Van James

Many people look at the Honolulu Waldorf School and think it's a kind of art school because so much art is offered. But the truth is that HWS has just as much focus on the math and sciences, languages and humanities as other schools (if not more), but it matches those subjects with many different artistic disciplines, providing a balance or counter weight to the academic school day. In fact, many of the HWS graduates go into fields completely unrelated to art; they just take a creative, can-do artistry to their choice of direction and career.

So it is a great pleasure when one of our alumni chooses a career in the highly competitive and unusually challenging world of Post-modern Art. Christopher Ritson (Class of 2004) is one of the 22 invited artists showing at the first Honolulu Biennial, between March 8 and May 8, 2017. This is quite a prestigious honor for this young artist.

However, Chris was something of an unlikely candidate for the art world when he was finishing high school. Although gifted at drawing and painting it was looking like he was going to be on a science track. His senior project was a large self-sustaining, eco-friendly aquarium, built from the ground up. But he decided to go to the San Francisco Art Institute and he became known for his unique blend of science and art. His artwork is actually more like freeform scientific research than an art project. And his present exhibit at the Biennial involves living organisms, or what he calls bio-generative artwork.

The Corallinales, Chris’ exhibit, can be described as living paintings growing in two aquarium tanks under artificial light. Coralline algae have been scraped from ocean trash collected from the Honolulu Harbor, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and from the surf break where Ala Wai Canal, an artificial and controversial waterway, flows into the Pacific Ocean. The algae are placed in a supportive environment for the corallines to thrive on glass and plastic debris, allowing them to produce a range of red, pink, grey and mauve abstract images. Over the two months of the exhibition these coralline algae paintings will literally grow into pictures.

The senior class of HWS was fortunate enough to have a guided tour of The Hub, one of the Biennial’s several venues around town. Chris Ritson came in especially to talk to the Class of 2017 about his work. Every 9th grade studies the history of art up to the 17th century but it is in 12th grade that Modern and Post-modern Art are studied. So the Biennial visit fit right into the 12th grade’s curriculum and they got to see one Waldorf graduate’s path of uniting his interest in both the sciences and the arts.

It is interesting that Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, made the following prediction over a hundred years ago, right at the beginning of Modern Art, well before the advent of Post-modern, Conceptual Art: “I believe that the significant factor in … attempting to understand the concept of art, is that an art of the conceptual will come about in which the work and activity of ideation will be fulfilled with images, with reality, and that what now appears as dry science will in the future come closer to art.” The work of Chris Ritson certainly bears out this prediction.