“Engrossed” on Governor’s Island

by Ann S. Kaufman

Last summer visual artist Rontherin Ratliff made a big change in his life. He resigned from his full-time position as creative director of a youth arts organization to devote himself to his own artistic practice. This new phase for Ratliff began with a Visual Artists Network (VAN) Exhibition Residency in Miami hosted by Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator. He immersed himself in the studio, working without a clock or any other commitment, and began a new body of work titled Can’t Call Home, large assemblages that hearken to the days following Hurricane Katrina and which reflect on the idea of home – both physical and ephemeral. This collection of nine sculptures attracted immediate attention back home in New Orleans, and was exhibited at Tulane University’s Carroll Gallery in a group exhibition curated to highlight artists’ use of non-traditional materials. Ratliff then went on to co-found Level, an artist collective in a shared studio space in downtown New Orleans, many of whom were introduced through overlapping opportunities such as the Joan Mitchell Center residency program.

Engrossed combined

Although Ratliff has appreciated this newfound time and energy for his own work, he feels the struggle of survival now without a “regular” job or paycheck. Hence the evolution of Ratliff’s latest body of work: Engrossed. He struggles with the often opposing desires for creative sustenance and practical sustenance and began a series of 12 dozen sandwiches constructed from cast glass, rusted bits of metal, and odd found objects. Ratliff comments, “Throughout my early childhood, my imagination would sustain me for hours on end, often times overriding my bodily need for nourishment.… Engrossed is the result of my contemplation of the things I relish, information I’m digesting and sources of sustenance in my life – be it mental or physical. Each piece in this assemblage art series takes the shape of a brimming sandwich. The bread slices are either cut from wood or cast from glass, cement or metal. The “fixings” inside the slices of bread consist of the remains of past work, mainly from previous mixed media assemblages and sculptural installations. I will continue to experiment with different mediums and methods for creating sandwiches, until the series has reached a gross, totaling 144 pieces.”

Engrossed was part of the group exhibit “American Twist,” presented by the Sculptors Guild, along with Antenna Gallery of New Orleans, on New York City’s Governor’s Island. Ratliff’s installation was (appropriately) installed in the kitchen of a large Victorian home, located in Nolan Park, Building #15. The exhibition ran June 3 through September 25, 2016.

Select pieces from the collection are now traveling to Miami to be featured in the exhibit “Eleven Voices,” curated by Rosie Gordon Wallace, founder Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator, Inc., and Kim Yantis, cultural arts curator at the Deering Estate, October 8-November 26, 2016.  Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator celebrates 20 years October 20-23, 2016, with three days of activities.

To learn more about Rontherin Ratliff and his work, visit his website www.rontherin.com.

photos by Ana Hernandez

September 2016

The Visual Artists Network is supported the Andy Warhol Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Joan Mitchell Foundation.


Past Issues