Robert Ryan

The Delicate Nature of Balance

June 23 - July 7, 2012

Robert Ryan's new series of works on canvas and paper explore the delicate nature of balance in life, ecology and the creative process itself. The paintings refer to no specific place or time but rather, relate an individual's relationship to the environment - be it natural or otherwise. Akin to a map of intricate poetic notations, Ryan employs the physical exterior to express aspects of his own interiority.

A rich synthesis of cross-cultural pictorial traditions, Ryan's imagery is less descriptive than archetypal. Sumptuous detail brims with visual and conceptual intent. Although his visual repertoire was perhaps initially inspired by the traditions and tribal motifs he encountered in remote island villages during 'surfing safaris', his exquisitely stylized figures, creatures, plants and patterns are now most emphatically of his own invention. In lively networks Ryan presents a micro-macroscopic world in which nature and human existence are inextricably linked.

Increasingly Ryan focuses on the minutiae, enmeshing them in complex layers. Both intimate and infinite, his works yield narratives of teeming life. There is the sense of a total immersion as the familiar and the extrinsic converge in tangles of pulsating vegetation. The huge painting that gives title to the exhibition - The Delicate Nature of Balance - stands as a veritable masterpiece of this oeuvre. Peeping through the painting's writhing tracery, the ochre and grey-green undercurrents resonate a kind of fecund pungency. Here a tiny lizard basks camouflaged on a giant, thick-stemmed plant while across the canvas a bird in its nest is concealed atop a curious bipedal form. An emu turns as if to watch the strange, ritual-like activity being enacted in this labyrinthian glade. Ryan's omnipresent dog waits in bemused expectation as a sombrero and apron wearing figure threads a serpentine shape through a pale hoop. A similar circular shape hovers, hieroglyphic-like, over the dog's ears and tail. Other eye-like or leaf-like motifs bounce and drift amidst the thrumming profusion. Interestingly, only the foreground figures have been glazed which gives them a peculiar, pearlescent glow in contrast to their matte surroundings. A deep sense of mystery and the magical pervades the scene.

Conversely, the painting Communication Towers reflects a very different kind of profusion. In this small oil on paper, lush verdancy has been supplanted by a white blankness. Where once existed a harmonious integration with the natural environment, there is now a jangling estrangement wrought by the relentless demands attending human habitation. A myriad of wan, dispirited persons and domesticated animals dominate a landscape where the trees appear as stark and skeletal as the ubiquitous communication towers.

While Ryan orchestrates pictures that hold a very real sociological and ecological relevance, they were not created to expound any particular message. The viewer is offered meaning through a contemplation of works in which the whole has become greater than the sum of its manifold parts. A master of fluid line and elegant shape, Ryan ultimately leads the eye beyond the bounds of symbolism and into the realm of pure visual pleasure.


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