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Bryan Ryley: Vernon Public Art Gallery

Liz Wylie

Canadian Art Magazine, December 2007

Will we ever tire of looking at painting? Get bored of marvelling at the alchemical transformation that the coloured mud undergoes in order to speak to us of emotion and thought and take us out of ourselves, to a place of the painter’s own invention? Bryan Ryley is a senior artist from the Okanagan Valley region, having lived and taught and worked here since 1978. The four huge diptychs that comprise this solo exhibition pack a whallop of an aesthetic and emotional punch. As is his intention, our first thought upon looking at the works is to wonder how they have been made. His is actually a fairly complicated and involved process that invokes chance, and uses seven-foot-long squeegees to draw globs of paint laterally across the canvas surfaces. The edges of the initial blobs create an enlivened coloured bric-a-brac along the outer edges of each painting. 


Because these means are not immediately apparent, however, the viewer may continue to ponder on the artist’s working process. This is not an idle tack, as it brings the thinker closer to considering how any painting is made and how we do apprehend its meaning. After a certain point this remains ineffable: how does the artist’s emotion enter the work, and by what means is it conveyed to us, so we may recount to one another, for example, of having wept in front of a painting, or having been momentarily unable to breathe.

Through consciously reducing his painterly means, Ryley has increased the emotional ballast of his work, much as did Cezanne, echewing expressionist bravura in order to compress the emotional payload, so that it then releases with greater power for a viewer. There is nothing ponderous about Ryley’s paintings, however. They seem to have been created with a lightness of heart, and have an almost spritely quality to them, even when executed in a limited or dark palette.

There is no intended mimesis in Ryley’s work, but naturalistic forms seem to intermittently leap out at us, in the same the way we think we have peripherally seen animals or people flitting among the trees when we go for a walk in the woods. The normally polarized antipodes of abstraction and representation seem to fall away in the presence of Ryley’s production, and instead one might find oneself considering such notions as chaos vs control: total chaos as anarchy, and total control being a myth. By giving each of these some rein, Ryley has achieved a tricky, hard-won balance. 

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