One hundred and thirty-six rats have infested an art gallery in Oakland, but there’s no need to call the Orkin® Man. This is the handiwork of local artist Matt Ritchie, aka rat136. You may recall Ritchie’s epic Retrospectacular exhibition and interview from February. For that show, he created a series of 101 different 2-inch rat canvases in hand-cut wooden frames. In the less than two months since Retrospectacular closed, Ritchie made 35 more rats—enough to cover a wall at Oakland’s ZEROFRIENDS and match his total to his title: Rat136.
In these times of computer-generated, 3D-printed, CNC, laser-cut, digital canvases, Ritchie’s rats stand out as hand-painted, hand-drawn, hand-inked, wood-burned, wood-cut and/or rubber-stamped. Additionally, all 136 of the hand-crafted rat canvases live inside hand-cut and hand-painted wooden rat frames. Some people refer to this as “process.” I’m fond of the term “OCD art.” Ritchie simply points to Matt Fact #6: “rat136 never sleeps.”
The 136 rats span styles (modern art, 30s cartoons), mediums (ballpoint pen, linocut) and pop culture (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Regular Show), but they form a cohesive brand. Falling somewhere between sweet Remy and scary Charles, Matt Ritchie’s rats have as much staying power as Pixar’s blockbuster or Chuck E Cheese’s mascot.
Witness the corporate trappings of cute!
From dark spots to day jobs and health issues to hobbies, the tiny paintings are windows into the artist’s life. Each rat has a story—sometimes it’s in your face, and other times it’s not spelled out for us. I think my favorites are the ones in which Ritchie has encoded an extra layer of meaning. A subcultural shout-out, if you will. Skateboarders, printmakers and Trekkies, for instance, will get a bonus round with particular rats.
This was a great opening, and Matt’s rats will be on view at ZEROFRIENDS through the next First Friday Oakland Art Murmur. Ritchie’s rats are now available to purchase online for rat-diculous prices ($80-$250) here. Support a local artist and a great collective of folks and score rat-dical art at the same time! Click through for more photos from Saturday’s opening.