Arts & Culture

September 9, 2012

Real, imagined mingle in Ronald Christ's paintings

Passion and vocation mix for Ronald Christ as the Ulrich Museum of Art shows a retrospective of his work.

Passion and vocation mix for Ronald Christ as the Ulrich Museum of Art shows a retrospective of his work.

Christ, a Wichita State University art professor since 1976, uses drawings and paintings to intertwine real and imaginary scenes.

“He’s an incredible artist,” said Patricia McDonnell, the museum’s director and curator for this exhibit. “His work is just so gorgeous.”

More than 30 pieces of Christ’s work were collected from galleries and collections to form this showing, which encompasses more than four decades of work. Christ has presented one-person exhibitions at leading galleries in Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati and Santa Fe.

“This exhibit covers all of the evolutionary steps in my work,” Christ said. The show takes the observer on a journey from the artist’s first years in Wichita through his Flint Hills stage then on to Italy and finishing off — for now — with abstraction.

McDonnell explained that most artists evolve and change, and Christ, she said, is no exception. Although he uses similar palates — only six colors — the glazes have differed through his stages. By using the same oils, Christ is able to create a vast array of color through mixing.

“It’s representational work, which is exquisitely done,” McDonnell said. “It’s technically stunning.”

Toward the beginning of his career, Christ created still life paintings, moved on to Kansas-based landscapes and began “inventing urban architecture” and imaginary imagery. In 1989, he taught a course in Italy. That course changed his life. Soon, his meticulously rendered paintings shifted to Italian locations. They still had fantastical imagery, but this otherworldliness had a specific Mediterranean setting.

For almost a decade, Christ traveled back and forth to Italy, painting, drawing and taking photographs. In addition to Italy, Christ was inspired by 15th-century Italian Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca and 20th-century Italian surrealist Giorgio de Chirico.

“My imagery shifted from my make-up imagery to the imagery of Italy,” Christ said. “I was able to utilize actual buildings.”

Two years ago, Christ shifted to the abstract — starting out with drawings and then moving to paintings.

But whatever style Christ uses, his message remains the same: “I want everything in the paintings to be possible but not probable.”

McDonnell calls Christ’s work a visual tour de force. She said that the museum needs to celebrate exceptional local artists as well as nationally and internationally renowned ones.

“We want the people of Wichita to know about trends,” McDonnell said. “But it is equally our responsibility to celebrate the local artists of merit.”

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