When prepping for a solo exhibit at the Mark Moore Gallery in Los Angeles, Downtown-based artist David Ryan altered his creative process. The usually deliberate creator wanted to loosen things up, so, perhaps counterintuitively, he applied some informal rules to guide him. The result is Object>Path>Outline>Stroke, five new sculptural paintings that retain Ryan’s well-known style while offering a playful new twist.
For the first “rule,” the 42-year-old artist used traced hand gestures to form his designs instead of his usual shapes. Ryan scanned hand-drawn sketches, or “doodles,” into Adobe Illustrator and then scaled them to size. The exhibit title, Object>Path>Outline>Stroke, refers to the four actions within the software program that he repeats throughout the process of turning the designs into a blueprint for foam, felt or PVC-cut wall constructions.
Next, Ryan incorporated elements from other artists. An example of this rule is “Traced Pascali,” which resembles a steamrolled version of Italian artist Pino Pascali’s sculpture “Quatro Trofei di Caccia.”
Ryan says this show is the truest collaboration he’s ever done. For him, collaboration refers to interaction with the computer software and with the materials.
Ryan’s third rule is to let the “hand of the machine” that helps cut his materials leave its telltale marks. The artist has gone from trying to sand those edges and anomalies out of the finished pieces, to embracing them as part of his process. For example, the series of colorful “Traced Gesture” pieces have internal lines and cracks.
The final rule involves the addition of new materials or reworking of old ones. In this show, the PVC foam that he had previously used as a backdrop for his work now takes a more central role. At various points, he allows the working materials to have their input. “It has certain properties that dictate certain things,” Ryan says. “Typically, I like to push things to see where they break. At that moment where they fail, you find out a lot of information.” The Houston native moved to Las Vegas in 1996, and worked at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art with curator and art educator Libby Lumpkin. His “doodles” led to her encouraging him to pursue a master’s of fine art at UNLV. Studying under Lumpkin and her husband, art critic and former UNLV prof Dave Hickey, Ryan’s horizons expanded. He soon appeared on the radar of contemporary art impresario Mark Moore, who presented Ryan’s work for the first time 10 years ago this month.
“David has always been interesting to us, particularly because of his engagement with art historical aspects, his abstraction from formal instruction, putting his own twist on things,” says gallery director Catlin Moore. “He continues to amaze us with how he plays with conceptualization behind the work, using shapes from art historical or pop-culture forms.”
Listening to what his materials tell him, letting the software and water-jet saw be a part of the creative process, riffing on other artists’ work, and working from gestures have allowed Ryan to be open to ideas while getting himself out of the way of the work.
“In grad school, one of the things I learned is that I react to the world around me, as opposed to having this vision in my head that I impose on the world,” Ryan says. “I’ve reminded myself to embrace that because that’s how I work best. This show was about relinquishing control, collaborating with the software and the processes. It feels like letting go a lot.”