James Ryan ~ 12 june - 11 july 09
studio 1.1
london e2

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present show 

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Open Friday to Sunday, 12noon - 6pm, or by appointment.
Private view: Thursday 11th June 2009, 6:00 - 9pm

Only two years beyond the Royal College and New Contemporaries, James Ryan’s growing reputation already marks him out as one of the most exciting, intelligent and above all serious new painters to emerge in recent years. Remarkably, he has achieved this with work which is almost defiantly (unsuitable as that word is in his context) simple, rigorous, precise and understated. studio1.1 is delighted to be presenting his first solo show in London.       

At first glance it’s an art of almost monastic refusal - an aesthetic, let’s say, of asceticism. Denying himself anything but the simplest forms and the most muted colours he steadily - stealthily - builds structures which seem internally consistent and self-contained: a pure geometry in which overlapping skewed cubes and slanting triangles simply display themselves. As the eye attunes a subtle push-and-pull swings in however, and the planes both advance and recede depending on their momentary context, as thin veils of paint darken or lighten what they happen to cover.  It’s a surface in a state of flux, constantly contradicting itself wherein the viewer, allowed unforced access to these optical games, by virtue of the cognitive kinetics called into play becomes explicitly the author of the spaces s/he identifies.    

But maybe the real issue is light itself. The layering of these blocks of translucent paint, over a non-committal ground, is done not to blot out, charging the canvas with a weight of paint, but delicately to let what’s underneath seep through, changed now by being seen from a different angle and as if in a different light, a prismatic offsetting of tone against (and simultaneously with) tone, done with gradations of colour so restrained as to approach grisaille. These layerings, completing and countering the spatial fabulations, always remain entirely lucid.    

Pushing a metaphor maybe to its limit, the moulding and inflecting of space that a lighting cameraman works at on a film set - a particular parallel being the classic French cinema of the 30’s, with its range of muted tonalities, its definition of the image in nothing but subtler and subtler depths of grey - is very close to what Ryan offers us on the canvas. And as with the camera - scraps of reality subtly intrude into the most fastidious set-up - the unpredicted physicality of these built-up textures and spatial contradictions is humanised by the ‘mistakes’ that are made, where blocks nudge each other or just fail to meet (although the artist’s presence is a hint rather than an assertion). These ‘errors’, faultlines in the faultless ambiguity of these paintings introduce a thrilling contradiction to the easy formulae of trompe l’oeil that can characterise such work, and give the proof of Ryan’s bravado and intelligence.    

By a weird coincidence, while the low-key gesturality of some of the patterning, line on line, reticent and scrupulous, has something of Agnes Martin in it, both other Martins can be seen in there too - Kenneth in the rigorous playing out of configurations of line and angle (funny how chance and choice can be as beautiful as each other); and the shapes and shadows in Mary’s low reliefs flattened back into a language of square/triangle, positive/ negative.

Ryan’s work can take on these echoings and withstand them; his place inside a tradition is a given. But part of the power of his work relies on exactly that. Commanding attention by their discretion, pulling us in by their reticence, and behind the maybe daunting baldness of their existence as ‘geometric abstractions’ the paintings have a particular presence and an aura that gives them an instantly recognisable individuality. Young as he is, taking the risky decision to  work through these Modernist issues and the rather riskier one of doing it  without a trace of irony, Ryan’s balance on the tightrope never falters. In paintings that are intellectual and sensuous, straightforward and subtle, he successfully reimagines - reinvigorates - a genre that more than most seemed closed off to imagination and invention.

Studio 1.1

For more information or images contact:
Michael Keenan on 07952 986 696