Reynolds Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of an exhibition of recent paintings by Paul Ryan entitled the sun that never sets. The exhibition opens with a reception for the artist on Friday, February 26 and continues through April 1, 2016. the sun that never sets is a traveling exhibition organized in collaboration with the Staniar Gallery at Washington and Lee University (September 7 – October 4, 2015) and the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech (December 3, 2015 – February 7, 2016).
Since 1983, Paul Ryan has perfected the persuasive quality of abstract painting. He is inspired by the banality of everyday commercial packaging, and uses these forms as a means for investigating the underlying major societal consequences of consumerism. In the sun that never sets, each painting resembles a visual and figurative machine, unveiling Ryan’s process of collection, transformation, and reproduction of materials—ironically echoing systems of consumerism. The show title itself references French Marxist theorist Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, a text dissecting capitalism’s front on the individual’s experience, an entity consequently reproduced through mass media efforts. Ryan concretizes these theories through oil and acrylic, applying color, shape, and line to create a distinct visual repertoire. Brightly painted geometric and natural forms reference commercial packaging, fabricating a patchwork conversation among trees, hands, blocks, and planes. A language emerges as imagery intersects and overlaps on horizontal and square canvases—appearing text-like—stretching their existence in space. The result is a body of work both concise yet playfully daring.
Although visually captivating in their maze-like perspective and edgy shapes, the process behind each canvas amplifies their presence. Ryan collects magazines, cartons, and miscellaneous packaging materials, which he uses like stencils for creating the formal structures of his paintings. Mundane symbols of consumerism become dramatic expressions of “desire, exchange, acquisition, consumption, and loss” as they litter the canvas in acrylic form (Ryan, Forward, Exhibition Catalogue). Working from left to right, the artist exaggerates and organizes each panel’s negative space, incorporating unique colors and rich texture in labyrinth-like style. In this new work, Ryan harks back to to Debord’s theories, painting a seductive scene of capitalism and human desire.
In her essay for the catalog accompanying the exhibition, Ashley Kistler notes the visual and conceptual duality apparent in Ryan’s work: “In see if you agree...our eye instinctively navigates the perceptual and spatial complexities of this multipart maze, seeking resolution and a way through it, but instead is constantly rerouted by its eccentric pathways. For Ryan, the formal attributes of the labyrinth offer a visual metaphor for the ‘twisted aesthetic of late capitalism,’ whose operations and effects likewise confound and consequently hold scant hope for successfully maneuvering the system” (2015). Ryan’s work does not set out to challenge the capitalist system or offer solutions for stepping outside its machinery. Instead, Ryan builds a visual language that makes apparent the inextricably interwoven nature of modern humanity and consumer culture, all the while questioning where and how the natural world fits in this relationship.
Ryan received his MFA from VCU School of the Arts in 1986 and currently works and resides in Staunton, Virginia. He is a professor in the Department of Painting and Printmaking at VCU as well as the Department of Art and Art History at Mary Baldwin College. Ryan is a highly regarded writer, serving as a contributing editor for Art Papers Magazine since 1990. Recently, he was honored as a 2015-16 recipient of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Fellowship, which he previously received in 2009. His paintings been exhibited in solo and group shows by The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1708 Gallery, Reynolds Gallery, all, Richmond, VA;; The McLean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA;; Marion Gallery, Rockefeller Arts Center at SUNY Fredonia, Fredonia, New York;; and Hartell Gallery at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY;; among others. His work is included in numerous private, public, and corporate collections such as Markel Corporation, Philip Morris USA, Capital One, all, Richmond, VA;; and Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA.