Original Art Work by Ryan Adams at the Morrison Hotel Gallery — an informal take on the exhibit
For a few weeks in September, Ryan Adams became the Morrison Hotel’s first artist in Residence. He spent a couple weeks painting away, right there on the floor of the gallery. I’m not sure many people know Ryan even painted…well, perhaps the No Depression crowd… But it was pretty fun going to see this. I know Ryan from the fleamarket where I sell books, and he played on my record for a lark which I recorded on a saturday a couple blocks away from the flea. (I was thrilled Ryan would go along with it, if I must admit. ) Ryan was telling me last year that he had been waking up at five in the morning and painting, so finally, I see the product a year later — a product not unlike what goes on in art schools across the country: Large canvasses with trippy, gloppy passages, exploring texture and the psyche, seemingly allergic to the idea of technique and precision. That’s not a bad thing. There is a sort of “joy of painting” in these pieces. The fun of making sense of colorful lines and forms that emerge, free association, themes ranging from Batman fandom, to headphones, New York City, female form, self portraits, or just lips, accompanied by commentary in childish scrawl on the walls beside the paintings denoting titles and prices. If you’re thinking in terms of visual reference, Ryan’s paintings recall Julian Schnabel, Basquiat, and Red Grooms. They’re right in there.
There was one small street scene of New York (I presume). The buildings lining the sidewalk reminded me of cards, as if the hearts from the ten of hearts were windows, as if buildings and their windows were passing fortune, or a catalogue of possibility, a key fascination with this city which apparently sells gazillions of telescopes, when the city lights, in fact, block-out the stars, and thus another metaphor to add to the city of a million tales to tell and all. Great stuff for a songwriter. In other paintings he incorporated or painted over fleamarket finds like pea can labels, Chinese wrapping paper, book pages, broken records, etc. There is one of a woman’s face painted over some pea can labels pasted down across the canvas covering about two-thirds of it. The labels are like a wall of eyes that don’t quite fit into the figure’s face. Like an off-register warhol but different. The girl’s face could theoretically move around the canvas using different “pea label eyes”. A similar feeling, I felt, to the fortune-telling card-buildings. There was another canvas called stage fright, I believe. It was bright orange, a scary color I find in general. Halloween and all… It had broken records pasted on for a couple people’s heads, with various audience members drawn in fairly astute caricature style, revealing ghostly eyes and bemused smiles. Other audience members were simply lurking shadows. Anyhoo, I thought it projected fairly accurately a sensation of stage fright.
This is not exactly the first web mention of Ryan’s exhibit. On the Brooklyn Vegan site, there were a couple dozen scathing one liners post in the readers comments section that basically said, “Ryan’s art sucks” which I feel compelled to address. I suppose this is an undesirable symptom of Twitter-culture. Although I can’t say that Ryan’s art stacks up against “great art”, or even to his music, I can say it is likable, engaging, and at least a dozen or more pieces I thought had significant merit. In fact, a couple weeks ago, my girlfriend and I visited the annual Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition exhibition, and I felt Ryan’s work was much better than any of the work I saw there, save the work of a couple artists only, and most of those exhibiting artists did the whole art school trip, BFAs, MFAs, etc. As I found from talking to the Morrison Gallery director, a very personable Mr. Rick Edwards, most of Ryan’s paintings that most I admired were earlier pieces, a year old or more, not from the past few weeks which comprised his artist’s residency. But that only makes sense, as he could pull the best from a year, rather than a mere two weeks. I felt there was more exploration in the earlier canvases, and more introspection. The recent paintings were large, but brief statements, rarely painted over, largely bright, simple colors, easily readable forms and highly visible signatures. Still, it was quite pleasing seeing the work en masse, and an interesting artistic journey to watch. As a musical person, also easy to identify with. Can’t wait to see, should Ryan continue, what his paintings will look like in 5 years, 10 years. A bit out of my price range, but quite enjoyable… and of course, if you’re rich, proceeds from sales go to The Housing Works Bookstore, which raises money to house people with AIDS. If you’re in the city, and are a Ryan Adams fan (or not) I recommend. You can see most of the paintings on line as well: