How did you start on the Cartoon Landscapes?
The cartoon landscapes started a few years ago as little studies on paper. I was cutting panels out of Carl Barks’ Donald Duck comics and painting out the characters and dialogue, leaving just the landscape with its implication of activity and narrative. These landscape images were appearing in paintings of fabricated museum interiors I was making around 2008 to 2010. Carl Gunhouse saw some of them and asked about showing a bunch of the landscape imagery as a grid. That’s when I moved to these 5 ¾” x 5 ¾” panels as substrates. I also started exploring the idea of filtering landscapes from all kinds of sources through the vernacular of early 20th century American cartooning.
What’s the process for these works?
My process has shifted a lot in the last couple of years, getting much looser as I started to move away from making meticulous copies from source material. Right now, I’m making piles of blind drawings of landscapes from memory. They’re pretty minimal things, just sharpie on manila paper, but they’re the way I’m able to get things moving. I lay a bunch of them out, covering the floor, and see if anything buzzes. Then it’s a matter of translating those working parts into painting, and trying not to over-refine them in the process. The color in these starts primarily from memory, and then has to get pushed a bit to fall into the proper register stylistically.
Do you ever do plein air landscape painting?
I very rarely do any plein air painting, but I do make a lot of color notes and pastel color studies outside, mostly drawings with notes. I’m interested in light that’s at least one step removed, if I’m using it to make something. So, more than painting from life, I try to do a lot of looking and a lot of remembering color combinations.
How did you move to the crate and container themes?
I had been making drawings and paintings for years that were of invented museum interiors and framed-out, rough spaces. They would contain imagery like, cartoon landscapes as though they were painted on unprimed sheetrock, or piles of bricks and rope, stuff like that. I was trying out a few different ideas in an attempt to make the things in these paintings feel more concrete. I wanted them to have a more literal presence. So then it was just turning the drawings into sculptures. Lots of little walls, rocks, pedestals and crates.
Do you have experience with curation and art handling?
How did you guess?! I’ve been working as an art handler since 2006, for a few museums around the country (the Neuberger Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, the Baltimore Museum of Art), and then for Bill Hill in DC. I haven’t organized any shows since school, but my wife, Ginevra Shay, does a lot of work as a curator, so it’s definitely on my mind.
What does the container mean to you?
The crates, for me, are first and foremost simple, literal stand-ins for actual crates. That’s what I needed them to be at the outset, a scaled reality. The more I photographed them in those interiors, the more I learned that I don’t look at things like a photographer. The crates all began operating visually as little gestalt units, like really loaded brushstrokes, designed and contained unto themselves, while simultaneously accruing into little molecular groupings. And that’s what they actually do out in the world too, all these nomadic crates shipped all throughout this massive network of museums, galleries, warehouses, shippers, artists and collectors. They accrue and disperse in beautiful ways, and I like their anonymity.
Are they based on real objects around you and in your studio?
The crates (and by extension most of the objects pictured in the photos) aren’t based on any particular or unique objects, but like the cartoon landscapes they’re an attempt at an abstracted visual-vernacular; something that can hopefully hover between a representation and a sign.
You’ve also moved towards photography - taking photographs of your crate and container installations - storage and gallery spaces at miniature scale. What is your mental space doing as you make these meta-moves from painting to container to installation to photography? What comes next? Will there be elements of destruction later?
Like I was saying about buzzing between representations and signs, I’m always trying to toss these objects or images into different contexts and scales. I think it’s about wanting to be surprised by language. My way of doing that is by re-framing, over and over again, a select group of things (landscapes, crates, bricks, rope, etc.) in different mediums and formats. I’ve been making 1:12 scale models of potential sculptures throughout the last couple months, so I think scaling some of those up is the next thing to do. Also, more painting!
How do you know when to move from one medium to the next, is it intuitive?
I basically always work in series, and I’ve found that most series know when to conclude themselves. I usually start giving them a little space. I go back to doing lots of drawing and hopefully thinking too, then I find some door that opened up in the last series, something unresolved. So I can start investigating this new thing, and oftentimes that dictates certain parameters, like medium or scale, and that’s really helpful in keeping things moving. I’ve also discovered that whatever medium I’m working in, I end up thinking of the work in terms of either drawing or painting anyway, so that smooths out a whole lot of the bumpiness inherent in moving between media.
What’s a typical day in the studio involve for you?
Most days start off with some cleaning and note-taking, lots of lists! Then I usually draw for a while before getting to work. Sometimes, especially with the miniatures, there can be a whole mess of hopping between tiny little projects, but more recently I’ve been lucky enough to have some long painting days. I try to do as much really active looking as I can throughout the day.
Looking and thinking are really tied together in what I’m trying to do.
66 notes · #Ryan Syrell #Contemporary painting #Cartoon Series #Contemporary Art
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