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Artist examines intersection of nature and culture in Marion Gallery exhibition
Sunday, September 09, 2012

Paul Ryan
 “On the Hop” artist Paul Ryan stands with one of his new untitled works, which is on display in the Cathy and Jesse Marion Art Gallery at SUNY Fredonia through Sept. 26.

In an effort to summarize the meaning behind the exhibition of his work that is currently on display at SUNY Fredonia, artist and critic Paul Ryan turns to a quote from Terry Eagleton, an influential British literary theorist and critic.

“We are not so much splendid syntheses of nature and culture, materiality and meaning, as amphibious animals caught on the hop between angel and beast,” reads the Eagleton quote, which accompanies Ryan’s exhibition in the Cathy and Jesse Marion Art Gallery in Rockefeller Arts Center.

Ryan said this Eagelton quote helps set the tone for the display of his paintings – and it provided the title for the exhibition. “On the Hop: Paintings by Paul Ryan” opened on Aug. 31.

In his works, Ryan takes commercial packages – such as cookie boxes or plastic silverware packaging – and places them on a canvas. He then traces the objects and paints the negative space between the packaging.

The packaging itself, he said, represents the “human exchange” that our culture has developed with nature. When the tracing and painting is done, Ryan interjects silhouettes of natural images, such as insects or people.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ryan’s art is use of circular shapes strewn across the paintings. The artist said these shapes are traced and painted silhouettes of the stumps of trees that have been cut down. These tree stumps embody the theme of the exhibition, he explained.

“They are a part of nature because they are grown from it, but the (stumps) which they have become would not have happened without the influence of our culture,” Ryan said. “As we have developed, we have had to cut down trees and create these very stumps.”

As a professor of art at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., Ryan said his teaching philosophy includes having students learn the “language of visual form.” Ryan incorporates this “language” into his own work as well.
“With the horizontal paintings, I have them set up to follow like you are reading a sentence. The paintings naturally draw you to look at them from left to right,” he explained.

It was a connection to Alberto Rey, a distinguished professor of Visual Art and New Media at SUNY Fredonia, which brought Ryan and his work to the Marion Art Gallery.

“I didn’t really choose Fredonia for my (exhibition),” Ryan said. “I’ve known Alberto Rey for awhile and had asked him to come to Mary Baldwin College to do a show. He in turn invited me to Fredonia and I couldn’t be happier. This is a beautiful space.”

“On the Hop” will be on display through Sept. 26. Gallery hours are 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free and the gallery is open to the public.

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