On the night of Thursday, June 17, I attended the opening reception for a show by Paul Ryan at theMcLean Project for the Arts (MPA). Ryan shows two different series. Deborah McLeod, director of MPA and curator of the show, had the following to say about the first series on display:
Paul Ryan's "fashion model" paintings in the front area of the gallery are studies of the expressive body as the core stimulus of social intercourse. In the instance of these works the artist's figures are models rendered in absence - in negative space - possibly to isolate the subversive catalyst for gluttony. In this manner the emotional/psychological effect that is cast outward by a seductive gesture is captured. In Ryan's stretched sense of time the fashion models, and the salespitch of the marketplace that exploits their effect, dissipate into extinction in the long horizontal planes, leaving behindonly whatever desire has been placed in their client's lap. Thus, the gently emanating auras of color become a profile of the viewer, an order for things felt to be absent and necessary. These brushes of shadowy air that gentle outward from the diamond of a pretty arm become a kind of carnal prayer.
Of the second Ryan series, Ms. McLeod said the following:
In the later paintings, Paul Ryan considers Duchamp's work: its machinations and speculations of commerce, value, aesthetics and desire. Ryan interprets Duchamp himself by placing him (found in majestic profile in ...the ultimate escape artist,) or one of his prosaic "readymades", or one of his complex fabrications, in the same elusive, emanating, and erotically appealing nether zone as the fashion model. In this absent place the seditious objects' and the Object Maker's art history begins to draw towards it an intellectual predicament not too terribly far removed from the libidinous condition prompted by the models.
Unfortunately, I don't feel that Ryan's work lived up to the lavish description provided by the curator, at least from a visual perspective. Entering the gallery I was not under the impression that I would be viewing conceptual art. Given that, I approached the show wanting to evaluate the works as they stood visually prior to understanding the purpose. The majority of works on display were done in an exagerated horizontal plane. My best guess would be that the average piece was 14" high and 7' long. The second series specifically appeared to be done in oil and the base layer of color applied in long horizontal strokes - brushstrokes showing persistently. On top of that I believe that Ryan used some sort of masking aid to apply a complimentary color of oil paint using vertical strokes. Each piece was done in only two colors. For example, the piece chess (sex) used a base layer of pink with a purple silohuette of two men playing chess. The overall piece was approximately 7' long, but the chessplayers occupied perhaps only the middle sixth of the painting.
Other paintings in the second series were done in the same manner, except incorporating up to five separate subject areas in each piece. The effect for me was the same for all. While I appreciated the color, I did not like being forced to look at a single painting in five parts. Each piece gave me a feeling of disconnect - there wasn't an element to each piece that moved me through from one side to the other. I would have preferred that a work with five subject areas be broken up into five separate paintings hung side by side. During the artist talk, Ryan stated that he was interested in language and that is why he chose the long, horizontal format. I can appreciate that. But I did not feel there was a story to tell. Perhaps I was at fault for not being able to decipher all of the silohuettes presented in each painting. Give me a little more to work with next time!! And if I was supposed to move through the piece from left to right as in modern English, what was I supposed to do when I got to the far right? Move on to the next piece after only a few seconds of looking?
I believe Paul Ryan has been a fairly successful artist for the past 20 years. Personally, I was not impressed by his showing here. There just wasn't anything that grabbed my attention. Unfortunately, even after reading Ms. McLeod's statement, I'm still left unimpressed. An artist must at least spark my interest visually, or the concept behind the work must make up for where the visual is lacking. In both respects, this show failed.
Every time I discuss an artist's work, I will try to list some of the things I appreciated/learned. In the case of Paul Ryan's show, I enjoyed the impact of a long, horizontal piece mounted alone on a single wall. With proper lighting (as in the case of this show), I feel that this shape can have quite an impact on the viewer. It does very well in activating the entire space. I also liked his thoughts on language and how he attempted to incorporate it into his work. Although I feel it was less than successful, I think I will keep the idea in the back of my mind for future work of my own.