Jan 23, 2017

Ryan Sullivan: The Midst of Creation

Ryan Sullivan’s large-scale paintings feel like you’re viewing vast landscapes in the midst of creation
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Ryan Sullivan

At their most extreme, Ryan Sullivan’s large-scale paintings look like vast landscapes in the midst of creation. Latex, acrylic, enamel, lacquer and spray paint in earthly tones of metals and rusts seemingly form in front of your eyes as if the metamorphosis from paint to solid state still continues.

They’ve been compared to ‘zoomed-in satellite shots of lunar terrains or geographical fault lines recorded by heat sensors.’ There’s a sense of chaos in them, yet at the same time they seem tightly controlled.
Sullivan’s process is fascinating and some might say as much a scientific experiment into the medium of paint as they are a process of creativity. Painting with the canvas lying horizontally, he applies thick masses of materials, allowing them to ooze across the canvas. It can take up to a month to complete, which explains why the titles of his paintings are often the start and end dates of the process.

It’s a confident embrace of chance and skill that seeks to ‘remove the hand’ from the painting process.

"I've always been interested in abstraction," he says. "But I've always found the gesture in the hand to be incredibly problematic in painting. And in school, a big focus of mine was how to remove the hand from painting. I'm guiding the paint but there's no brushwork, there's no signature going on. The whole point of having these layers is to create this object that has a physical potential of its own. When you have wet paint and dry paint and layers moving, it's something that I'm responding to.”
A graduate from Rhode Island School of Design, 33-year-old New Yorker Ryan started out as an assistant to painters Ross Bleckner and Laura Owens. Since then he’s been an artist in residence at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, had solo exhibitions at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Florida, Sadie Coles HQ in London and Maccarone in New York and had his work acquired by MOMA.

Now represented by the aforementioned Sadie Coles HQ and Maccarone, he is set for a further solo show at Maccarone in New York in 2017. To add further weight to his growing reputation, he has been included within the latest edition of the esteemed Vitamin P series as an emerging painter to watch.

Comparisons of his technique to the abstract expressionist era for obvious reasons are common, but he’s not looking towards the past and instead focusing on refining his own exploration of the painting medium:

“I’m not trying to quote from art history,” he explains. “I’m interested in the associations that might come up, but also interested in not making any of those associations so available that you can stop dealing with the painting right there. In such an image-rich world, that’s one thing that painting has to offer. You can make images that aren’t easily digestible.”

Click here to see Ryan's profile at Sadie Coles HQ