One cannot help but rely on previous experiences when observing a new set of circumstances. With abstracted art imagery, any viewer must necessarily stand at the farthest point of their own cognition as though their own knowledge is a dock or a mountain overlook and comprehend the view beyond. Without the certainty of visual keys rattling assuringly in his or her pocket, the viewer may start with the same given that the artist established for himself: the orientation of the work.
Were Paul Ryan's long rectangular paintings oriented vertically, they would suggest something entirely different than what they suggest horizontally. Vertically viewed, they might seem to borrow on Chinese calligraphic characters that have bled into solid, irregular silhouettes. Or they might describe some form of ascension. But as distinctly horizontal works, primarily rendered in otherworldly greens and ochres, these paintings begin their debut in the mind as landscapes, describing a field of vision, and/or a materiality that occurs in earth time.
Looking off in the direction that Ryan has described in these ambiguous vistas, one might recall the circumstance of a mirage. Floating truant shapes glinting in an unattainable distance, the subject matter hovers before one's perception like a heat-persuaded hallucination.
Ryan's actual subject matter is the human form, dissected into elements and isolated into biased negative space. Appropriating this negative space, which exists mutely beyond the carefully posed contours of figures in magazine photos, Ryan defines another layer of life the energy that emanates just beyond the skin in each figure's immediate atmospheric suburb. Ryan renders the model's corporal presence into a finite aura, reckoning each of his studies into an equation that is the sum of a single specific part, now preserved, immortal in a way that the figure itself could never be. Loosely speaking, this is a mythical consequence somewhere in the intellectual regions between cloning and cryogenics.
In spite of the sulfuric color that Ryan chooses, probably for its fashionable yet alien quality, there is a peculiar gentleness to the effect of these paintings, as though the act of making them influenced their nature. They are caresses of the human form, reconciliation with the agent outside of its little action, whatever that might be. Ryan graciously rids us of that uneasiness or opportunity for prejudice and gives us a larger sense of life beyond the margins and just over the horizon.
These works are modest and flawless, their quiet, impartial knowledge a thing that can be carefully discerned or evaded easily, without a glimmer of awareness for the missed encounter.
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