Mayan cosmology might be the inspiration for a cultural anthropologist, chance the inspiration for a mathematician and utopia the inspiration for a philosopher.

Matthew Ritchie

Thursday at 5:10 p.m.
Michigan Theater

But all those preoccupations can also reflect the concerns of an artist: in particular, those of Matthew Ritchie, who will provide the next installment of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series with his lecture “Games of Chance and Skill” at the Michigan Theater on Thursday.

The London-born Ritchie creates complex works across multiple genres, including explosive paintings that at times flirt radically with pictorial representation and sprawling installation pieces that create an organic yet highly technical appearance. One such example is Ritchie’s The Dawn Line (Sun Dog Variant), part of his Andrea Rosen Gallery exhibit “Line Shot;” the structure, a tangled series of black snowflake-like forms, is made out of, according to the gallery website’s description, “aluminum structural units and epoxy coating.”

Therefore, to definitively label Ritchie’s trade (he is sometimes referred to as a painter, while other outlets frame him as a “visual artist”) might be difficult ― a reality the artist recognizes.

“I think we’re kind of almost beyond the time that people can easily say ‘I’m this or that,’ ” Ritchie said in a telephone interview. “I used to be called a painter who made some other stuff. But then I made more other stuff — and then I made painting.”

Despite the variety and abstractness of his oeuvre, Ritchie professes a chief thread unifying his work.

“What I’m mostly interested in is kind of systems of knowledge,” Ritchie said. “There are real rules and there are rules we make up and then there is just chance. And sort of negotiating those three things is what my work really is all about.”

Ritchie will explore this theme and others during his lecture. As Ritchie detailed in an e-mail, attendees can expect a three-pronged presentation. First, Ritchie will lecture and present a film that highlights select works and their relation to his artistic themes and their collaborative nature.

One such work is “Hypermusic,” which is, according to Seed magazine, a genre-bending operatic performance about physics. Working with a composer and a Harvard physicist, Richie provided set designs and video images that swirled around the performers.

“It kind of opens up this dimension of chance,” Ritchie said of the collaboration process of his art. “And you have to be more and more skillful to get past the things that go wrong. So you have to have skill. And they’re really ― they’re all projects that sort of have a huge openness to them because of the number of people involved, and they also have very, very specific rules behind them.

“And every time you make art, it’s a gamble,” Ritchie added.

Whatever randomness one might conventionally associate with the term, the “gamble” seems to pay off in the complex yet ordered installations or performances to which Ritchie contributes. This notion of complexity is expanded upon in another prong of Ritchie’s lecture, during which he will discuss concepts such as, but not limited to, utopia, divination and art from the past century.

Ritchie parallels this complexity to the complicated contemporary climate and, providing a glimpse at the “divination” on which his lecture will comment, likens this to his role as an artist.

“It used to be the job of the artist was to divine in the sense of divination,” Ritchie said. “Like, you know, to try to understand the universe. And gradually that job description got kind of way shrunk down until it was like ‘paint a picture.’ And I’m always kind of like, maybe we can just do a little more than that.”

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