Robert Ryan

Back to Byron

June 15 - June 29 2013

Coming back to Byron after a year of living and painting in a seaside shack at Broomes Head, Robert Ryan discovered he was less enthused than anticipated. The environs were all too familiar and shadowed with memories: the past was too present. He needed to back away, find some place where he could process his thoughts and regain his creative impetus. And so in another tiny, one room hut somewhere south of Ballina and accessible only by ferry, Ryan began this current body of work. In the distance across the water the Byron Bay headland loomed shimmering and chimera-like.

The act of painting leads the mind naturally into a meditative state where attention is focused and the outside world subdued. The painter, the medium and the subject are one. A certain sense of calm pervades the series of small oils on board Ryan produced in this environment, many being painted en plein air. Gone are the tapestry-like images with their profusion of intricately patterned motifs. The new works are of the figure in landscape genre. Full of personal metaphor, they bear the imprint of his life experiences and journeys to transformational zones.

In layerings of memory, imaginings and direct observation, Ryan has captured an elusive stillness by "stripping away everything" that is not essential. Such a paring back requires great skill, take too much away and the composition may become static, too little and the atmosphere is lost. Ryan paints what he feels. Into the innate poetry of the landscapes solitary figures have been placed. Nothing is directly stated. The moods are at once those of intimacy, estrangement and acceptance.

The single figure acts as a compositional devise giving focal accent and symbolises the reminiscence that inspired the creation of each picture. While the figures have deeply personal connotations they are intended to have universal implication. The features are deliberately nondescript, the bodies occasionally little more that a rudimentary shape. There is a general absence of physical activity. Children pause from their bike riding to gaze out at the view, or perhaps inward. A person floats in Tea Tree stained waters, absorbing the healing properties. Sometimes serene, at other times vulnerable and uncertain, figures sit, crouch or huddle amidst the vibratory magnitude of the natural world.

Moments of active participation do occur. Apart from the hazards of crossing an allegorical, swaying tangle of jetsam in Tip Toeing Over the Wreckage, Ryan depicts motion in expansive contexts, such as frolicking in the rippling, turquoise waves of The Pass - a place he has surfed for 20 years. The painting Bliss shows a figure silently walking along a pristine, white shoreline. One imagines that nestled protectively within the person's loose garment is a vessel filled with something precious and hard earned.

The interiors were the first works painted for the exhibition. They describe Ryan's initial response to living and working in humble and cramped conditions. The limitations of the space have determined the small size of the current pictures. Through Ryan's brushstrokes and textural markings we enter private worlds observed by a contemplative eye. Soft pastel hues express a realm of quietude gained from the distillation of raw emotion. We experience a genuine connection with Ryan's unreserved response to landscapes tempered with memories both buoyant and pensive.

Robert Ryan's work is represented in: the Microsoft Collection, UK; the Baileys Art Collection, Dublin, Ireland; the Hughe Charlton Collection, Apollo Gallery, Dublin; the Ellis Collection, London; the Broug Collection, Munich and Leipzig; the James Packer Collection; the Carrington Capital Australia Collection; the Gold Coast City Gallery; the Tweed River Art Gallery; the Tea Tree Gully TAFE, Adelaide and the Regency Park TAFE, Adelaide among many others.


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