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Lift and Separate: 

At Reynolds, Paul Ryan tries to cover a lot of territory.

Cutting out and then tracing on canvas parts of human figures found in fashion magazines, Ryan creates biomorphic silhouettes in which only some edges can be understood as being derived from photographs of the human form. By manipulating the shapes at varying scales and at times allowing clues like an outstretched arm or folded torso to emerge, the artist builds a series of vertical passages which could suggest a sequence of events or ideas.

According to the artist's written statement for this exhibition, his interest in words and language and "how texts permeate and mediate most of what we see and understand" influenced his decision to shape these paintings to remind the viewer of sentences or parts of sentences. So elongated in width and relatively diminutive in height are these canvases that they resemble ribbonlike banners towed by small planes over beaches. But Ryan's efforts to promote an association to the written word are lost in these paintings, at least formally. By attenuating his canvases to such an extreme, he restricts one of the most engaging visual elements in the work — the suggestion of expansion and contraction within the canvas borders formed by the exchange between shape and edge.

In this case Ryan's conceptual interests slightly undermine the compositions of "lift here and be happy," but his smart delivery of color, shape and contour outweighs any awkwardness in format. — Paulette Roberts-Pullen



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