I knew something bothered me about the showing of Paul Ryan's work at the McLean Project for the Arts (MPA). I just now figured it out. During the artist's talk on opening night, Ryan discussed how he was influenced by language, and hence his use of long, horizontal canvases (I wish I had an image to share, but the MPA has neglected to respond to my request via email). I may be wrong, but compositionally speaking, doesn't language significantly impact almost all art, except maybe for Minimalist work? As an English language people, we read left to right, top to bottom. Isn't this how we naturally look at everything? When we see a painting, we tend to start at the top left, and work our way down to the lower right. If the painting is compositionally sound, there will be some aspect that encourages the viewer to return to the top left from the bottom right, and thus maintain our interest and focus on the entire picture. The viewer can't help but be engaged by the piece.
This explains my problem with the majority of Ryan's work. The long horizontal form suggests to me, when I think of language, hieroglyphics. However, the symbols that comprise hieroglyphics tend to be tightly bunched together. Ryan's silhouettes are spaced approximately twelve inches from each other, so for me, this negates the entire language angle he's playing to. It could have been interesting if his silhouettes were close together and told a story, as with hieroglyphics. This would have engaged me much more. Instead, it appears that each painting is composed of about five isolated images. As I said earlier, the majority of art should be executed with language in mind. It's simply sound composition.
"The cow jumped over the moon."
How long did it take you to read the sentence above? That's essentially the same amount of time a viewer will spend with each of Ryan's pieces since he has not provided anything to pull the viewer back into the image. We are forced to read left to right... and straight off the canvas!!
Man, I sure am glad I finally got my thoughts together about this. Now I can sleep much better!!
If anyone has seen the current show at MPA, I would love to hear your thoughts. Am I way off base here?