Berkeley City College goes for the surreal in Ribitch exhibit

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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Salvador Dali once said that “surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” Many aspiring surrealists have taken this notion to heart, including the city of Berkeley’s own Samuel Ribitch. In the “Reverie and Dream” exhibit currently underway at Jerry Adams Gallery in Berkeley City College, the artist seems to bring Dali’s vision to life.

Since studying at the college’s art department, Ribitch has been fortunate to bridge his passion for surrealism with digital media, incorporating ZBrush, Cinima4D, Poser, Mudbox, Daz Studio and Photoshop into the prints currently on display.

Ribitch’s works are visceral and abstract, with unidentifiable forms blending into one another in vibrant color. Upon close inspection, it may seem like the collection of pieces and their digital medium share few similarities with the works of Dali, Max Ernest and Rene Magritte, but the foundations are quite similar; they share the same surrealist philosophy.

Historically, the surrealist movement aims to deconstruct and distort reality; it presents a new world, one that the artist has created, often pivoting the viewer into a dream-like state that can be described as the subconscious. Ribitch distinctly remembers being drawn to the endless possibility of surrealism, describing the artistic style as “a ‘lightning field’ of the possible, where the horizon is set aflame by human potential. … It is the play between the invisible and the visible dancing under a moon.”

His pieces approach themes such as death and the mundanity of life, all while coalescing the two with rough texture and dark colors. Despite their abstract composition, the prints eerily evoke familiar images such as fire and earth, though the beauty of the surreal is that the forms can take different means for each individual viewer.

Ribitch, like many surrealists before him, toys with the concept of the human form in several works. In “Self-Portrait,” he invites viewers to consider the presence of not only the author within the piece, but also the idea of human transformation. Within this print — and multiple others displayed at the gallery — recurring images of butterflies seem to symbolize transcendence and development, again contributing to an aura of change.

The butterflies almost become poignant points of reference for “Self Portrait:” What we know and are familiar with is consumed among the clamorous components of the artwork, as illustrated by the fading image of an anonymous man’s face at the bottom of the piece.The chaos, although concerted, presents an emerging struggle between the reality and the subjective.

The struggle for the familiar is a common motif that is clear throughout even Ribitch’s more abstract works. For instance, in “The Garden,” “Bones” and “Lichenous Experiment #1,”  there are no definable images. They all rely on the repetitive nature of scenes to enmesh the viewer in this rather distorted reality.

In “Bones,” which is one of the most eye-catching prints on display, Ribitch uses a monochromatic theme of beige to draw the viewer in. The lines are scraggly and there are no concrete shapes, but the color palette makes the bones seem recognizable. The boundless images suggests that even in the surreal there are always some elements of the familiar, much like the butterflies in “Self Portrait.”

“For me, that’s what this art is about — to trigger (the viewer’s) imagination, to expand.” said Ribitch at the exhibit’s opening reception. “In that way, (viewing) becomes a revolutionary act.”

In “Reverie and Dream,” Ribitch stays true to the surrealist philosophy while modernizing it through the digital medium, successfully subverting truths that we take for granted through his indiscernible compositions. To the viewer, he presents a new world in which the surreal and real are in harmonious co-existence.

Perhaps the artist believes in the potential for humanity — like the many shapes in his work — to take whatever form it so desires. Surreal, indeed.

Contact Alex Vazquez at [email protected].