Robert Ryan

Tadpoles And Frogs

August 15 to August 28 2020

Secreted somewhere amidst tangles of filigreed foliage may lie the little tadpole and frog pond that was the inspiration for Robert Ryan's intended new body of works.  The pond and its creatures had been a chance discovery he'd made as a child during a brief roadside stop on a long journey.  The rebuff of his plea to come see its wonders was his first inkling that he possessed an innate awareness of the ‘other' shared by very few - the artist's perspective!

The underlying theme in Robert's paintings has essentially always been about a relationship to one's surroundings and situation.  As he was preparing to begin the first works for his upcoming exhibition, news of the unfolding health crises overseas assailed his creative musings.  Its title remains but now assumes a metamorphic relevance.

With Robert's initial intensions 'hijacked by circumstance', he embarked on works with a more contemporaneous, sociological context.  Overpass was the first of them and it relates to television coverage disclosing the flagrant behaviour of Bondi beachgoers in March. 'I was embarrassed by this conduct as the very real threat of global pandemic was arriving on our shores,' Robert remarks.  'I wanted to see how it felt to paint a crowd scene at a time when to be in a crowd was illegal... strange days!'  The paintings Social Distancing and Community in Lockdown ensued.

The Black Lives Matter protests across the globe were being aired when Robert was painting both the Newly Weds and Creek Beds and the Creeks and Ponds works.  He tells that they again reference the need for social distancing but also subtly encompass 'the dual acknowledgement that people of all shapes, sizes and ethnicity make up a community.'

One looks into picture surfaces pulsing with linear activity and rhythmical tiers of stylised figures.  The features are deliberately nondescript, the bodies occasionally little more than rudimentary shapes.  Robert doesn't start with a preconceived notion of a particular painting's outcome.  The imagery unfolds as he proceeds, one form suggesting another.  The extremely time-consuming process of rendering minutiae in complex layerings proved to be advantageous.  It enabled certain narratives to evolve in accord with the events transpiring beyond his remote, Tasmanian studio.

Reading from left to right above a stretch of socially distancing characters, the elongated Loop de Loop painting depicts people confined to their various abodes.  Outside, snakes curl in the tree tops.  Time passes and then we witness folk now outdoors relishing a modicum of freedom as restrictions lift.  Referencing this sequence, a conga of dog motifs envelops the scenario. Why dogs?  Robert informs that they are intrinsically animals who like to travel in packs.  Besides, he enjoys the abstract shaping possibilities.  Overlooking is a puma, dark and predatory.  Its lurking attendance symbolises an ever-present danger.

Whilst such works bear testament to an artist's need to visually document the milieu of his times, there are others where the outside world's vicissitudes are subdued.  Portrayed within Him and Me is a solitary figure siting in a bend of ‘the river of life'.  Ever onwards it flows through Nature's vibratory magnitude.  The mood is concurrently one of intimacy, estrangement and acceptance.

As a full circle gesture, Robert created the last painting in the series, Frogs and Tadpoles. He explains that is symbolic of the hope for things to return to the untrammelled realms and joyous possibilities of pre-COVID days.

JACQUELINE HOUGHTON


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