The mature, meditative art of British artist Veronica Ryan is the opposite of the cheeky art that so impresses audiences and critics these days.
Ryan's sculptures are meditative and poetic, slowly revealing themselves rather than being modern sensationalist. The room dedicated to her by the Tate Gallery, for example, is pure beauty. In a space whose yellow walls seem to melt as we gaze, her sculptures are spaced out like notes in a minimalist score.
Ryan's works are soft, flexible, regardless of the material they are made of. They are as light as feathers, spread like shells on a cloak, or hung in net bags, as if they were items washed up on a beach by the sea. Many of her sculptures are inspired by the flora of Montserrat, the island that gave her birth: graviola fruits, cocoa berries, volcanic ash. These plant shapes suggest a place and shapes, reveal a lifetime of memories.
Veronica Ryan was born in 1956 in Plymouth, Montserrat, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. She moved to London as a child with her parents and now lives between New York and Bristol.
Ryan's interest in art begins at school. In particular, she remembers a small Christmas tree of hers in kindergarten that she decorated with materials collected, or her mother's patchwork, still a vivid memory and source of inspiration.
His academic career includes St Albans College of Art & Design, Hertfordshire College of Arts and Design, Bath Academy of Art, Slade School of Fine Art, University College London and SOAS (School for Oriental and African Studies) and the Slade School of Fine Art.
Since the beginning of her artistic career, Ryan has wanted to get out of the modernism that she perceived as stale and immobile. Her inspirations are many, especially black sculptors and artists. She admires the German Eva Hesse whose work she saw for the first time in 1979 at the exhibition Eva Hesse: Sculpture at the Whitechapel Gallery. During the same period she discovered the work of Louise Bourgeois, Alice Aycock and Barbara Hepworth. New Beacon Books is where Ryan went to research non-Western artists and artists of color.
In 1981, thanks to the Boise Traveling Scholarship, Ryan visited Nigeria and became interested in local art and culture, particularly in how everyday objects, including food and waste materials, were used as fetishes or votive objects for ritual offerings and how they were charged with power, psychic meanings, defensive powers, healing powers and also as part of structures to honor ancestors. This journey allows her to deepen her interest in artifacts and materials and in particular in how different meanings are attributed to the same object or raw material.
She returned from Nigeria and decided to continue her studies in art history at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies).
The period of her studies coincides with the birth of the British Black Arts Movement.
In 1983, in fact, she took part in the Black Women Time Now exhibition.
Her presence at The Thin Black Line (ICA, London, 1985), From Two Worlds (Whitechapel Gallery, London), Fruitmarket Gallery, (Edinburgh, 1986) links her to a wider anti-racist movement. Ryan later feels the need to clarify that her work isn't exclusively racially motivated. "I've always been criticized by some people because I don't fit into their political agenda."
Ryan's favorite materials vary from the heavier ones such as concrete, bronze, lead, painted plaster to the lighter and more ephemeral ones such as paper, dust, flowers and feathers. His sculptures are abstract from biomorphic, organic shapes such as shells, peels, seeds.
Relics in the Pillow of Dreams (1985) is an exemplary exhibition of this aesthetic. The organic nature of Ryan's art is accentuated by the fact that his works are placed directly on the floor without the support of the plinth.
The key element of his art is the relationship between content and container, between the inner and outer dimensions. In an article published to coincide with the exhibition at the Camden Arts Center and at the Angel Row Gallery, Ryan explains how his small studio in New York is representative of the container and as such is a "sculptural" environment where you accumulate newspapers, dust, deposits of various materials, become the content of his work.
Processes such as binding, colouring, sewing, stacking are common in Ryan's works, techniques used with great skill and sensitivity. His work has been defined by the art critic Barry Schwabsky as a sort of “ruminating by doing” in which assembling and rearranging materialize through the process itself.
Conceptually Ryan works on a combination of personal experiences, ancestral history and natural environment. Having experienced the British Caribbean diaspora firsthand, she is particularly attentive to themes such as origins, memory, belonging in relation to space and landscape.
Domesticity, motherhood and the role of women in society are also themes dear to the artist.
Underlying Ryan's practice is an interest in how systems of meaning and forms of alternative knowledge can be materially transmitted.
Exemplary in this regard are the works by Ryan Custard Apple (Annonaceae), Breadfruit (Moraceae) and Soursop (Annonaceae) depicting three Caribbean fruits and permanently positioned on 1 October 2021 in the Hackney district of London to celebrate the so-called Windbrush generation, i.e. the Caribbean immigrants who arrived in the United Kingdom after the Second World War. Some of them, unfortunately, were victims of a scandal that only came to light in 2018: although they were regularly registered British citizens, they were treated as illegal immigrants and were forced to try year after year the their right to remain in the UK on pain of deportation.
According to Ryan the fruits she chose and reproduced in marble and bronze in Hackney - the breadfruit, cinnamon apple and graviola - were, she realized upon completion, the very same ones her mother ate while Ryan was in her womb. Similarly, Ryan's sculptural constellations appear to convey information, silently speaking their deep, organic language.
Just as the seed thrives and opens to life only in the right climate, so the life of objects and materials and their use, value and meaning are determined by the environment, consequently they vary in time and space.
Her solo exhibitions include:
Along a Spectrum - Spike Island, Bristol (2021);
Virginia Woolf: Exhibition Inspired By Her Writings - Tate St Ives (2018);
The Sculpture Collections Exhibition, Leeds Gallery Henry Moore Institute (2018);
The Art House Wakefield (2017/18);
The Weather Inside - The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh PA (2011/12);
Archeology of the Black Sun. Musings After Kristeva - Salena Gallery, Long Island University, New York (2005).
She has also exhibited at Camden Arts Centre, London, Angel Row, Nottingham (1995); Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, and Riverside Studios, London (1988); ICA, London (1987); Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (1987). His first solo show was at the Tom Allen Center (1984).
Group exhibitions include:
Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945 - Arts Council Collection Touring Exhibition (2021);
The Place Is Here - Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham (2017);
Making It: Sculpture in Britain 1977/1986 - The Arts Council Collection touring show (2015);
British Art Show - Hayward Gallery, London (1990);
Stoke City Garden Festival in Stoke-on-Trent (1986);
From Two Worlds at Whitechapel Gallery – London;
The Thin Black Line - ICA, London (1985);
Five Black Women Artists - Africa Centre, London;
Sculptors and Modellers – Tate, London;
Whitney Biennial: Quiet as It's Kept;
A Clearing in the Forest, The Tanks at Tate Modern, London.
Ryan's works are part of the permanent collections at:
Arts Council of Great Britain, Tate, London Tate; Arts Council Collection, London;
The Henry Moore Institute Collection, Leeds;
The Sainsbury Center Collection, Norwich;
Mellon Bank, Pittsburgh
Rochdale Art Gallery; Contemporary Arts Society;
The Hepworth Wakefield.
Weltkunst Foundation, London;
Salsbury Collection; Irvin Joffe Collection, London; Cleveland County Museum; The Boise Scholarship Collection.
Pubblicato il December 19, 2022