Robert Ryan

Blue To Red (paintings from Brooms Head)

November 12 - November 26, 2011

The ocean's murmur, wheeling bird cries and the rustle of wild things scuttling or crawling through the undergrowth are now the only sounds to infiltrate the silence as Robert Ryan paints. Cut off from all communication with the outside world, a tiny fibro shack nestled in the Brooms Head landscape has been his studio for the past four months. Things seen, felt and remembered manifest freely in the solitude. It is the locations in which Ryan lives that continually shape his creative imagination. Although the Blue to Red paintings contain three distinct bodies of work, the underlying theme is the individual's relationship to the environment - the finding of connections between human experience and the rich, metaphorical resonances of the natural world.

In the large canvases we see Ryan's characteristic visual wit coupled with a feeling for the meditative nature of his surrounds. These works imply a space and time continuum that has nothing to do with a fixed viewpoint or orthodox ways of seeing. They invite the viewer into an accumulative and continually evolving world. A rich synthesis of cross-cultural pictorial traditions, the painting Carpet Snake and Dingo is necessarily transitional and links the new works with those of the recent past. Inhabiting the body shapes of the snake and dingo are a myriad of intricately patterned motifs and "mini portraits" that illuminate the artist's stories. Avoiding illusionist effects in favour of a stylized, intentional flatness, Ryan's imagery is less descriptive than archetypal. His totemic-like forms are exquisitely refined. Rhythmical sequences of rooftops, abstracted human figures, ritual-like objects, animals, birds, trees and flowers shimmer in a complex web of visual relationships.

Quite the antithesis of those intricate, tapestry-like works is a series of small oils on board painted en plein air. Entranced by the prismatic beauty of the Brooms Head landscape, Ryan is now in the habit of ambling down to the seashore or riverbank to directly document its chameleon moods. These are works painted simply for the joy of painting and pertain to no social or philosophical purpose. There is a certain ease and calm confidence in Ryan's stylistic departure. Fat, swiftly executed brushstrokes and soft pastel hues express the expansive buoyancy of his response to the physical environment.

Thirdly, is a group of richly calligraphic works on paper. These reflect an absorption in process to discover new possibilities of expression. There is no deliberate or consciously planned strategy here, but rather an attuning of mind to a state of utmost fluidity. Ryan's mark-making is intuitive and spontaneous with emerging forms suggesting where the work might lead. "It is pretty well directed by the process and the happy accidents of pushing, pressing and brushing colour," he explains. The vibrancy of the final image is the result of multiple layerings of ink, oil paint and monotype that simulate nature's unfettered energy and flux and flow.

The significance of place and a sense of poetry is central to Ryan's Brooms Head paintings. They may perhaps be thought of as an amalgam of physical topography and ways of seeing and being. In them we perceive a micro-macrocosmic world in which nature and human existence are inextricably linked.


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