Ryan McGinness: Studio Visit at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
Feb 18, 2015 7:16PM

It is with particular pride and pleasure that Virginia MOCA presents Ryan McGinness: Studio Visit through April 19. This exhibition has been organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in collaboration with Ryan McGinness. 

McGinness is a Virginia Beach native whose art has deep roots that extend into the influences on his childhood. The region's predominant skate culture played a role in his artistic evolution. As a teen, he was unable to afford the skate decks and clothing brands with popular logos and brands. Instead, he designed his own logos and t-shirts, which gained popularity and value among his peers. This connection between creating corporate-type imagery and the value that society placed on them made a lasting impact on McGinness. This was a seminal realization that would play into later investigations throughout his career.

As an adult, McGinness has established an art practice that includes the creation of his own visual language. It is a distant relative of the work from the early 20th century, the Cologne Progressives. Their attempt at creating an exacting artistic language resulted in a system which became commodified and corporatized. Corporate logos and traffic signs provide an example of this.

McGinness' work references elements of this concept but takes it in a different direction. But, rather than a universal language, he conveys his own thoughts and ideas. Each separate image is the result of a labor intensive and systematic process.

For McGinness, everything begins with his sketchbooks. This is where he records his thoughts, concepts and avenues of inquiry. It is also where he solves the problems of reducing imagery to a clean and recognizable symbolic language. The artist finds his solution through repeated renderings in his sketchbook(s). With each attempt, he discovers the means to further refine the form. Failure is an essential part of the process. The work is not finished until he arrives at the truest solution of the form. He calls each finished symbol an “icon.”

Once he reaches the final solution for an icon on paper, he further refines them as computer vector drawings. Circles become perfect, parallel lines straight and angles more precise.  The final vector drawings allow the artist the freedom to determine whatever scale he needs to begin the screen print.

Elements of McGinness’ actual studio space located in New York City are on view within the exhibition gallery. The dichotomy of the scrupulous order of the artist’s studio and process and the unbridled imagery of the finished work is interesting. Perhaps an ordered environment provides fertile ground on which his intense and active mind can thrive. Given time, his process changes how you see the signs and symbols that make up our world. 

The finished works separate out each icon’s meaning, but there is more. Every icon also conveys meaning in connection both to the entire work and to the artist himself. It is, after all, McGinness' vision that has become manifest. Because the forms are familiar this might seem like the artwork is easy to read. This is not so. McGinness has discarded the corporate agenda that makes most logos so accessible. His icons invite deeper contemplation and contain not just a little bit of humor. We are invited in on this conversation.

By Heather Hakimzadeh, Curator, Virginia MOCA 

This exhibition is made possible in part by support from The Capital Group Companies and Vicom. 

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art