By CHRISTINA LAUREL
Written for Artkestry
A bit off the beaten path but worth the venture is the one year-old JGK Galleries. Especially through October 27, which is the end date for a solo exhibit featuring the sculpture and paintings of California artist Brittany Ryan.
The feminine aspect of Ryan’s work is immediately apparent, yet the expression is understated and pensive, elegant and fresh. The bronze sculptures, none more than 14 inches in height, are evocative of Rodin and Degas, as if they had merged into one artist in the 21st century. Ryan’s paintings are reminiscent of John Singer Sargent’s portraiture but created with a brighter, more modern palette. What is appealing here is the nod to art history that the contemporary artist’s work makes, while staying true to the immediacy of her present.
Ryan holds her BFA and MFA from Laguna College of Art and Design, as well as the Florence Academy (Italy), where she obviously perfected her technique in two very traditional mediums: bronze and oil.
Working in clay, Ryan employs the additive method to produce a surface that, when cast in bronze, still reveals the artistic journey of the piece. Like Degas in his most beloved “Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans” (Little Dancer of 14 Years), Ryan utilizes this surface texture clothed in textiles most successfully in “Little Smoker,” an 8 x 8 x 13-inch statuette mounted on a wooden base. In her artistic statement, Ryan writes of “creating a woman who has agency, a sense of self, and is in a moment of openness.” Steven Huff responds to “Little Smoker” in an ekphratic poem, calling this moment of openness “…an arrangement that she’s made with Death that she grudges its approach with every flick of her lighter…” and, indeed, there is a poignancy in the portrayal of the demure figure gowned in taffeta and tulle, as it gazes downward casually holding a cigarette in her left hand.
Huff is among the 16 poets who were invited by Writers & Books and managing director of JGK Galleries, Maria Lauriello-Klein, to respond to Ryan’s work. The resultant writings and images were expedited to Big Pencil Press and then quickly published in a volume titled “1 x 8 x 16,” referencing the one artist, eight works, and sixteen poets. On September 14, at a fee-charged reception, the public was invited to meet Ryan, view the exhibit, and listen to the poets (Tricia Asklar, Sally Bittner Bonn, Jan Wenk Cedras, Charles Coté, Anne Coon, Sarah Freligh, Anthony Gill, Huff, M.J. Iuppa, Kitty Jospé, Jennifer Litt, Wendy Low, Clara O’Connor, John Roche, Taylor Rugg, and G.E. Schwartz). This is an example of crossing disciplines to the benefit of both.
Speaking of “both,” JGK Galleries creates visually-interesting pairings of Ryan’s paintings and sculptures, including “Waiting in the Club,” a 30 x 40-inch oil installed near the 18 x 9 x 9-inch bronze statue “Daniella.” While the fabric-upholstered chair is a bit too literal, it does logically support the ungraceful lounging of “Daniella,” about whom poet Wenk Cedras asks “So what do we make of this renewed interest in silence?”. “Daniella,” with propped head and eyes gazing toward “Waiting in the Club,” suggests that a dialogue could ensue between her bronze self and her oil-painted counterpart. If only the two-dimensional Daniella had not turned her back on her three-dimensional persona. One can almost see the thought bubble in “Waiting in the Club,” with the words “So what?” inserted. Conversation thwarted.
The pairings continue: “Gray Jacket,” a 5 x 5 x 14-inch bronze stares slightly upward but away from its 30 x 40-inch oil-painting muse in red jacket, “Diagonal” who, in turn, stares slightly off stage and downward. Intentional avoidance? Ryan states that “each painting informs my next sculpture” and that the “process begins with a correspondence” between the two, but it is as if the works have only intellectualized each other, never vocalizing outwardly their inward thoughts. It is a delicate balance that Ryan negotiates between the warm and the cool.
In the context of the exhibit, the two 11 x 14-inch still lifes of sugar bowls, “Ironstone 1″ and “Ironstone 2,” are anthropomorphized into feminine vessels with lids that shall never be pried and handles that shall never be embraced. Unlike the slouching or smoking figurines, these inanimate objects do not exude attitude and thus provide a visual balance in the show. The largest painting (48 x 48-inch), “Law of Sisters,” is also the most complex. Featuring three pubescent girls on a settee, the viewer is introduced to the awkwardness that accompanies youth on the cusp of young adulthood; white-gloves, white hat, high heels, properly-crossed hands in laps, but with knees and ankles awry. Ryan allows a glimpse into the future – perhaps a decade or two – via the oval mirror mounted above the sofa. Here, the sisters converse around the dining table, wine glass and cigarette in hand; expressions reflecting their younger selves. It is the most colorful and involved of her paintings; perhaps the most engaging, although a personal favorite is “Diagonal” for its strong compositional elements and for what is left unspoken.
While at JGK Galleries, do enjoy the adjoining two gallery spaces where 14 out-of-state accomplished and emerging artists are represented on a rotating basis. Currently, three local artists – Gareth Fitzgerald Barry, Scott Peters, and Goded Geier – who participated in Greentopia also have works included. JGK Galleries is located at 10 Vick Park A, Rochester, NY 14607; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, 11am-3pm; Wednesday, 4:30-7:30pm, and by appointment; 585-734-6581; www.jgkgalleries.com.