Monday, January 30, 2012

My quiet obsession with Street Art Part 1


After watching a few documentaries about street art and the explosive nature of its popularity, I rekindled my love of street art and street art philosophy (granted, this is rapidly evolving as the general acceptance of street art "stars" like Banksy, Shepard Fairey and countless others, as legitimate art phenoms).
       Analyzing works of modern graffiti artists poses several problems for me, not the least of which being that I'm not quite sure what I'm analyzing.  As a fan, I am awestruck by the sheer monumentality of the works being produced in urban centers throughout the world.  Graffiti artists in this vein are like super heroes to me.  They pull a Kaiser Soze evertime they create.  As one LA city official put it, "Graffiti writers are like baby pigeons.  You know they exist, but have you ever seen a baby pigeon.".  I love that aspect of street art.  there is something very noble about donating your work to the whims of nature and authority.  Most Graffiti pieces are by nature, short lived.  They are there, they are gone.  If you didn't get to see them, tough shit!  (coincidentally, this is the same reason i enjoy Moddanara street paintings)  It seems insane to put so much energy and thought into something so impermanent, and in a way it is.  That insanity is part of the draw for me, and for better or worse, with the emergence of modern day technology and its accessibility, this is dying.
       "We" as a society, are no longer in New York city ca. 1970's when it comes to graffiti.  Our involuntary assimilation into the social media age has made everything more accessible and easier to market.  Graffiti, being an engine of progressive social thought and expression, goes where we go.  It follows us down the rabbit hole, and the assimilation of graffiti, like the assimilation of society, was inevitable.
       Formerly reclusive and introverted artists are now doing multi million dollar shows in places like LA and London.   "Exit through the gift shop" is a fantastic exploration of the utter ridiculousness of hype culture throughout the world.  Graffiti artists are now selling stenciled canvases for the kind of money that a well known impressionist might sell for at auction.  There is a scene in which Mr. Brainwash is taking phone calls pouring in with offers of 25,000 or more for paintings that no one had even seen yet.  This is the kind of sillyness that exists in the art world today.  Someone will spend 25K on a sloppily rendered stencil piece, with very little investment sustainability, and not give a thought to the amazing quality of work that they could purchase from one of our modern masters.  This is a reflection of a flash in the pan society.  A Russel Chatham, for instance, will have more investment quality for half the price of a Thierry Guetta print.  This I guess is the ultimate joke.  I can see why people would think that the "documentary" is an elaborate joke pulled of by Banksy and other well known, gallery established Graffiti artists.  Whether or not the movie is a "mockumentary" is semantics.  The money that changes hands in this world is very real.  Rubes will still spend money on crap, and the Robin Hood's will eventually become Sheriff.

       So, how do you analyze street art.  Is it even street art anymore?  Can we view and critique street art in the same vein now as more accepted art movements of the past (i.e. romanticism, abstract expressionism, Dada).  More importantly, if we start reviewing street artists works as an established art movement, doesn't it become paradoxical?  If street art is by nature and practice anti establishment, then how can it become part of the establishment?  One thing I do know:  the movement is growing more and more momentum.  It will be interesting to see what path it takes.  The success of these artists, both financially and popularity in the zeitgeist, could end up being the Achille's heal of the movement.  As history repeats it's self, which it always does, will we see Street art become so popular that it swallows its own head?  We will see.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Analyzing the Self Portrait: (commonly asked questions/comments)

Many of my friends can't help but notice the hundreds of self portraits that I have done throughout the years.  Anyone who sees my artwork hanging in a show space will surely notice that there are almost always a few self portraits tucked in the peripheries of the environment.  Many people find the portraits to be much more appealing or interesting than my studio landscapes.  They spend as much time examining a 20 min self portrait as they do an oil painting that I pined over, lost sleep over even.  The self portraits mean little to me by comparison, yet even I can't help but include a selection of these silly little narcissistic meanderings.  It is a Curious thing.  But not an isolated incident.

20 min pose 2012

Why do self portraits.  For starters, an artist always has his model with him at all times. Whenever the itch for creative release arises, you can always draw yourself.  Drawing or painting yourself cuts out the middle man or the model.  Beginner art students tend to have more success breaking through generic image modeling tendencies when forced to render their own likeness, therefor making self portraiture an ideal training and skill building exercise.  I've always found self portraits to be painfully honest renderings of ones self (think of Frida Kahlo's iconic unibrow) to the point of being blatantly unflattering.  This inherent quality of a self portrait can make them very intimate portraits of the artists psyche (insecurities, fears, a laundry list of unsavory things) and therefor more than just paintings.   

There are other reasons of course.  Before photography was mainstream throughout the world, a self portrait was a great way to advertise yourself.  Artists self portraits seem to be akin with the artists personality.  Fun loving and jovial artists usually have a more playful and personable portraits whereas the very intellectual and "serious" artists always seem to have a pensive, stoic gaze cemented in the importance of the artistic process.  All of these characteristics give self portraiture an almost biographic quality. 
Frida Kahlo

Artists throughout time have used the self portrait as a vehicle for self expression that can not be achieved through third party observance.  Sometimes the artist, though always a character in the show. wants to step out from the shadows and say a few lines.

I personally have always used the self portrait as a way of centering myself.  observing myself through an intimate lense.  There is something metaphysical happening in the space between the artist and the mirror.  I feel as if through intense focus and complete submersion into ones work can cause a kind of beautiful absence of anything physical.  It is a inadvertant meditation.  For example, when i am in the studio, my attention is often spliced in several directions.  The fact that my paintings are developed through specific intentions and processes limits the amount of time i can get lost in them without taking a step of the process way too far, limits the depth ar which my subconcious can submerge.  Self portraits are different for me.  I can sit there and draw myself without conviction, intentions or expectations.  It is pure creation.  In between my eyeballs and the mirror, I am convinced the air is having a cosmic orgasm.  Electrons bouncing into each other in a courting dance as old as the universe.  Sorry to get all Tom Robbins on you, but it really feels peaceful.  

One thing that many people ask me is "Why don't you draw the eyeballs in most self P's?"  That I will explain another time.  It isn't exactly a secret, but I have trouble articulating it.  I am in the process of learning how to talk about it without sounding like a novice existentialist.  Soon though.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Big Plans for 2012

Assuming that we all survive the apocalypse and the post rapture looting that ensues, 2012 looks like it will be a fruitful year for the artists in my immediate circle.  The new year and the upcoming changing of the seasons tantilizes the gods and coaxes the muses out of hibernation, and I'm hoping that they find us well as we head into an important year for the arts.

Random Studio Pick

The latter part of 2011 was rough for everyone I know and therefore i wish it a good "fuck off and die".  Out with the old, in with the new.  There are several reasons to be excited about the changing of the calander.

I am currently working on a new series of work, and preparing for a small works show with Iowa Painter, and my father, Michael S. Ryan.  The show will be themes around the "edges of the day" and will consist of at least 16 small works.  We hope to know venues etc. soon.  It will be a great honor to show with him.  The last time that we had a show together proved to be an incredibly warm and memorable experience.  The last show was great, but this one will be a the highlight of my young career, and we are both excited to put our best out there.  We are both painting 8 12"x12" canvases to begin with, but as this project grows, the volume may grow as well.  The goal here is to "show off" the Ryan chops a little.

For those of you who don't know my father's work,  check out this link

some images courtesy of

copyright 2012
copyright 2012
copyright 2012

I Have recently begun the series and will upload progress of the works.

I am continuing to draw and paint on a daily basis.  Today I had an urge to draw some self portraits so, I sat down for four twenty minute charcoal drawings.  The model was terrific.  Best model ever.  Very Professional and refined.  I had him pose nude even though I was only painting his face.


I expect to do a lot of these types of side projects.  I need to keep the artistic juices flowing in any direction that encourages me.