The last time I visited Matthew Ronay’s studio, I found him sitting on a chair in the center of the room. He was wearing a pair of royal blue basketball shoes with an overlaid white mesh pattern and a milky translucent sole. To his right sat an identical pair, similarly worn and arranged in exactly the same position as the pair on his feet, as if an invisible Matthew were sitting on an invisible chair to his immediate left. The Jordan Horizon, Ronay explained, is a hybrid, a mutation within the Jordan species—combining the clean lines of the Jordan Future with the distinctive lobular sole of the Jordan 13. He liked this variation so much that he got two identical pairs and, rather than setting one aside for later, put both to immediate use.
Ronay works from drawings—deceptively simple sketches in a small notebook he keeps with him at all times. They are drawings of intertwined bodies, of limbs and protuberances, cuticles, peduncles, carbuncles, calcifications, intersections of hard and soft matter, barnacles, burls, tumors, phantom limbs and vestigial appendages. These are not drawings of sculptures, they are drawings that become sculptures, which is to say they are neither plans nor diagrams, but something more free form, more intuitive, unburdened by regard for the structural particulars of the sculptures they will come to describe.
Once the drawings are complete, Ronay switches authorial modes and begins the task of deciphering his own marks, of reading each sketch as a diagram for a sculpture. At this transitional moment in a process that is literally bicameral, work moves from the studio’s clean room, piled with notebooks and hardcover monographs, to a smaller dirty room where a block of basswood waits to be hewn, gouged, rasped, scorped, shaved, sanded, pocked, ocked, dyed and dimpled. Ronay works alone and on one sculpture at a time, carrying each piece from conception to completion before starting on the next. Translating each sculpture from drawing to object requires solving problems of balance, resolving impossible perspectives, interpreting texture and adding color (this latter detail being of particular importance because despite the fact that Ronay uses color as well as any artist working today, he draws only in black and white).
At different points in our lives, Matthew and I had more or less the same job making maquettes for architects. Generally these models would represent an isolated element, a window section or a corner detail that was too complicated to be resolved on paper—a condition that needed to be seen in three dimensions to be understood. Years later, I learned that the word «architect» derives from the Greek arkhitektôn meaning “master builder.” The original term described a trade that incorporated design and construction into a single craft, but over time, the master builders stopped building. Today, architects are experts of representational modes—drawings, models, renderings and animations—the illustrations of structure, not the structures themselves. The architect steps away from her design as it becomes form.
I would never describe Ronay as an architect, but the shift in the meaning of the word presents a model for thinking about a working process that sits on both of sides of this etymological rift. On the one hand, Ronay is a master builder, presiding over the germination of each sculpture in every phase of its creation. On the other hand, he allows for a fissure to exist within the process where he can work ideas out on paper unencumbered by practical concerns and then transition into the role of interpreting his own diagrams, of figuring out how to bring those drawings to life in a three-dimensional form. How to make wood behave like charcoal? When to make plexiglas soft and basswood hard? Where to find the bones inside of the blobs?
Ronay’s drawings are automatic and intuitive—they ow naturally from his own body, from internalized habits of composition and muscle memory. His sculptures, in contrast, are meticulous, executed with exacting precision and exquisite technique. His impossibly kerf-less tongues and grooves bewilder anyone who has ever worked with wood. Still, despite their extravagances, each sculpture is inevitably faithful to the simple drawing that preceded it.
For his upcoming show at Perrotin, Matthew is drawing at a different scale, working on larger paper that allows for a different kind of physical interaction with the drawing. Freed from the confines of the spiral notebook, new gestures come from the shoulder or the arm rather than the hand. There is more of his body in each drawing and new variations in line weight, texture and detail emerge. Ronay moves back and forth from drawing to object, from clean room to dirty, from shoe to identical shoe.
Justin BealPhoto: Claire Dorn / Courtesy Perrotin