June Mostra 2016/ Meet the artists … David Ryan

Over the next few days we will be introducing you in turn to our seven resident artists who will be exhibiting in the June Mostra on Friday 17 June. With just over a week to go until opening night we joined David Ryan in his studio to find out more about him and his work.

David Ryan (Abbey Fellow in Painting)


David Ryan’s work explores formal relationships through abstraction. These forms are always seen as in dialogue. In this way the paintings aim to find a way of embedding certain contradictions – between private and social, inner and outer, and autonomous and referential. The current paintings explore variations on Giacomo Balla’s work Insidie di Guerra. In this context, the language of Futurist dynamism is broken up, re-staged and slowed down. They reflect on the projections of Futurism – now being the past’s conception of the future and operating rather like an archaeological fragmented artefact or inscription.

Your work takes inspiration from the Italian artist Giacomo Balla. What is it about his work that you find so interesting?

Balla interests me for several reasons, I think he’s of that generation of artists who were trying to figure out what painting could do. The futurists to whom he belonged for a while were trying to do something impossible in painting, by attempting to create a process of motion, or paintings representing motion. After the experimentation with that, his work changes. What I’m particularly interested in is the short phase from 1915 to 1923. In this period his work moves to not being so interested in representing motion as much as he was in the futurist period, he becomes more abstract. His paintings also become more of an exploration of space. They try to figure out what pictorial space can do; flatness, depth.

In Balla we get a sense of a rhythm of a composition, and I am interested in looking at that. I think a lot of modernist work, like minimalism, tries to go against the idea of composition and uses the neutral spaces of the grid or the monochrome. I like looking at the idea of how one might approach composition again. Balla is a key person that I wanted to look at in relation to this.

Some of Balla’s work is in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, which you have visited, but have you found other artists that have interested you or surprised you in any way?

One of the great things about being at the BSR and being close to the art galleries and museums here is that I can research other paintings and painters that I wouldn’t normally be able to access, artists like Alberto Magnelli, Emiliio Vedova, Enrico Prampolini, among others. It’s very interesting to look at their work and how that particular generation of Italian painters who, in the wake of futurism and in between the World Wars, were trying to do something else with space and composition. As we speak, just this evening I’m going to an archive of an abstract painter, Giulio Turcato. He’s not someone whose work I know very well, but it is typical of the opportunities given to award-holders here at the BSR that this spontaneous trip to a unique archive in the artist’s studio and apartment was offered to me.

Have you found your work has changed from what you were working on before coming to the BSR? Are the set of paintings you have created for the upcoming mostra similar to the type of work you normally make?

I think there has been a change, there is a fluidity in the space, and I see these current paintings as a set of variations on a piece by Balla. There is certainly a musical sense of making variations from something. It’s definitely been an interesting key to thinking about this idea of space and temporality within painting – which re-connects with Balla. But also within this set of variations I wanted to take the paintings apart, to formally dismantle and reassemble the form in some way.

The other influence for me is more present within a set of larger paintings I made for the mostra at the Accademia di Romania in Roma, they are slightly different, slightly more formal in one sense. The larger paintings have to be more constructed, and have a relation to more architectural spaces such as wall decorations, mosaics, tiles etc., which, of course, I have experienced in Rome.

Has the gallery space that you will be exhibiting in within the BSR influenced your work?

Not so much to be honest, I had in mind already the idea of producing these smaller canvases, and it has been very liberating. It is less of a construction and things can happen quite differently within the work of this scale.  Both the mark-making and the viewing situation are framed differently by this very small scale. Yet grouped together they become much more expansive and about a kind of comparative looking.

I have been looking at the patina of things in Rome. Particularly the frescoes I have also been looking at the Etruscan art at Villa Giulia. The ceramics and frescoes are amazing.  Wall paintings are always scarred by time, and this has made me want to intervene in the surface of my paintings more. Sometimes I make a print of one painting and print it onto another, the surface gets disturbed. This has the effect of slowing down gestures, of creating surfaces that are at odds with each other.

What has been the most interesting thing about your residency at the BSR?

I think it’s been the conversations, with other people from different disciplines, it’s clarified certain things. I am very interested in Classical history, as well as the various histories of Rome, and being able to have those conversations has really helped. To bounce ideas off people, for them to come into the studio and make comments that I hadn’t thought of creates a very creative environment, which is particularly good for an intense residency like this.

David’s work will be exhibited alongside the other six resident artists in the June Mostra; open 16.30-19.00, Saturday 18 June until Saturday 25 June 2016, closed Sundays.

Photo by Antonio Palmieri, interview conducted by Katherine Paines