Matthew Ronay

Matthew Ronay was born in Kentucky and lives and works in New York. In the early 2000s he gained recognition for his sculptural objects with a stylistic language borrowed from the worlds of toys and comic strips. His works in steel, MDF, and wood were given a polished and seemingly mass-produced finish, and painted in the strong colours favoured by Play-Doh, crayons, and toy shop merchandising. The playful and inviting first impression one gets of the works doesn’t prepare the viewer for their disturbing undertones, typically with references to violence and sex. The early 2000s were marked by a renewed interest in sculptural objects among young American artists. Ronay is, in this respect, one of a generation that includes Taft Green, Cristina Lei Rodriguez, and Trisha Donnelly. These artists typically sought inspiration from the world of mass-produced objects, while at the same time emphasizing in their sculptural productions the inherently subjective aspect of handmade works. After the events of September 11, 2001, many of them also developed a very disillusioned view of the world. They reacted to Bush’s “war on terror”, the Iraq war, the upward spiral of consumerism, and USA’s weakened position as a world power with cynicism and irony – but also with a reawakened engagement in politics. Ronay moved to New York shortly before the terror attacks and his works from the early 2000s are by some seen as sombre allegories on the perils of an overblown consumer society. They can also be seen as a satirical commentary on the world we are condemned to live and die in. Throughout this period MDF (medium density fibreboard) was Ronay’s material of choice. This is an engineered wood product in which wood fibres are combined with wax and resin and then formed into panels under high temperature and pressure. The panels can therefore be moulded and formed according to the wish of the artist, and buffed until a highly polished, “impersonal”, seemingly mass-produced finish is achieved. The violent and sexual aspects of the works, combined with titles such as To Brutality, To Stupidity, To Vulgarity, To Thoughtlessness, underline that this is a sphere in which feelings and content exist independently of each other. One of Ronay’s prevailing interests has been the narrative structure of the French Nouveau Roman, particularly as exemplified in the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet. Here descriptions of objects are used to suggest the psychology of the characters. Space and time are flexible, the plot is fragmented, and the reader is taken on a journey of free association. Ronay invites the viewer in a similar fashion to take part in the realisation of his works. In Fattening Mix (Human Blod, Cobs) from 2004 he lets the individual observer interpret the juxtaposition of corncobs, blood, and a magic wand. The single elements are immediately recognisable, but as a whole the work resists any definitive reading or interpretation. Around 2006/2007 Ronay’s art took a new turn. Today he makes large installations that resemble magical groves or grottos, referencing the “primitive” and subconscious, Jung and archetypes. At the same time Ronay has staged performances in which he takes on the role of a shaman in elaborate costumes. He once said: “For me, you use your subconscious to inform you about what your conscious would never tell you.” Perhaps the leap from his earlier works is not as large as it first seems.