Ryan Bradley is an artist who lives and creates in Chelsea, NY. Ryan, in person, is boisterous and outgoing, the life of the party. His work, however, is subtle and finely detailed painting and drawing, almost like he is painting at a molecular level. His work consists of a mix of drawing and painting, of figure and flora, overlaid on top of each other in particular designs and patterns. There is a secret behind his work, though: Ryan is nearly blind. He can see clearly only by holding an object within inches of his eyes, and when he works on his paintings, they are within an inch or two of them. This, to me makes me stand in awe of what he creates. If he is able to create under such a challenge, what is my excuse? Here, Ryan tells Eyelevel Arts more about his background, inspiration, and aspirations as an artist.
J: Is your background in the arts?
R: I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art for undergrad, and I actually did the state championships in high school football.
J: Were you a football star?
R: I don’t know about that (laughs). So I came from this really tiny town in which was completely devoid of art—no art program in my high school. But my mother was a 4th grade teacher and she did a lot of art projects and my parent always supported and allowed for an interest in art.
J: And where did you grow up?
R: I was in Washington, about an hour north of Seattle. A dairy farming community actually—I have milked a cow, but not on any sort of regular basis! My first interest in art –I don’t tell too many people this–was children’s book illustration—my mother kind of prepped me to be a children’s book author and illustrator. I was a fan of E.B. White. I have three children’s books written and storyboarded under my bed, that at some point I might release under a surname. But my interest in art not having an art program in school was in children’s books, because my mother was a 4th grade teacher, and there were always these books there. ‘Good Night Moon’…I have them all in boxes back there, around 200 of them.
J: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
R: As far as when I knew I wanted to be an artist…I never thought I would be anything but an artist. But there are different facets of that. I wasn’t going to be a gallery artist, I was going to be a children’s book illustrator. That was why I went to MICA, why I went to their summer program. That was right when we went to state championship, and going to art school hanging out with a bunch of hippies coming from that, I felt so out of place there and so different, and all these kids came from art high schools…it was just so different from my upbringing. But I loved being able to do art and do this creative thing. Actually while I was at MICA for the summer, being a junior in high school, I did my entrance interview, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fly back out. I felt strongly enough that I knew this was what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I applied early admission and got in, I actually knew my roommate from summer school, so we set up to be roommates, and I went to MICA, and I was an illustration major. I then got into the School of Visual Arts which is the number one illustration program in the country and I got there. At SVA they let you kind of pursue your own thing and there were a lot of students who doubled as illustration and painting—as in painting pieces for galleries. I was building up to that, but I wasn’t quite sure if that was what I wanted. And that changed. I remember I saw John Newson’s show in NY and it changed my life. And I thought, if he can do it, I can do it.
J: What artists do you look at to develop your work?
R: I look at a lot of artists, a lot of photographers. I have about 300 Vogue magazines in the corner over there. I like fashion advertising. I’m into fashion, I spend time with fashion, my work is about fashion. That’s a very important facet in my life. Also the decorative arts, which are a main influence in my work. But artist.—the Drawing Now show at the MOMA. James Rosenquist’s retrospective at the Guggenheim. To see his work fully intact around you was spectacular. Even though my work is figurative, I like to think of it as abstract. I say I’m a figurative subtractionist. It’s more about the subtraction aspect than the actual figurative work.
R: I’m working right now with Xactos—I hand-cut all of my stencils out of frisket. It’s a plastic sheet, airbrushers use it. I’ll spend two months sometimes cutting my frisket.
I do realism—I don’t do realist painting but I’m part of realism. The reason Chuck Close was such a tremendous influence on me is because where I grew up he lived 15 minutes away. I felt everyone had come fro ma mega art school—I new I had talent and ability, but these kids had had so much schooling, this thing had been fostered and mine hadn’t. Here’s this guy who had come from this tiny little community where I had grown up who had achieved one of the most successful living artists today. He went to University of Washington before he went to Yale. He was a huge inspiration because of that. I felt like if I couldn’t make it in the art world because of where I came from, but then I would think if Chuck Close could do it, I could do it.
J: I could see that. Could you tell me about your current work?
R: This is a huge piece I’m transferring right now. I preplan everything from the computer. So this piece are perfect inverses of each other. Where one is devoid, the other is present of the image. I spent a month and a half just cutting the patterns, before pastel ever touched the paper. I love this big piece, but the artwork you see on the paper with the pastel is just the execution. What I love to do it the design work beforehand—that is the real art for me. I spent months and months on developing this pattern. So I wanted to do this project with the model, this mirror image. These are sister pieces, in which there are the same piece mirrored, but flipped. The floral pattern that I developed on one piece is flipped and then flipped again on the second one. On my easel right now is a piece I’m working on . All of the floral pattern has to be hand painted before I start cutting. Inks gauche, watercolor…theres a lot of ink, but I go over everything with gauche. And then I have to cut my pattern in the frisket, to protect the white of the paper.
I have this idea for my next solo. The work is actually never about the model—it’s never about the figure. It’s about abstraction, the migration of patterns. It’s about puzzling: I want to limit what you see in one piece and make you draw conclusions in the next piece. So where I remove something from one, I give it to you in another so that you yourself can put it together with your eyes. So what I have here is one pattern going this way, that is a perfect inverse flip.
How I transfer my work is I’ll draw on one side, then I’ll flip it, draw on the other side, then I flip it, and I draw it again on the paper, so my hand pressure transfers the drawing. Takes forever, but it’s extremely accurate.
J: What are your future plans?
R: I’d like to be at a bigger gallery with a great relationship, and feel that I’m a part of a family, and feel that my ideas and my collector base can grow.
J: Thank you so much for explaining your working method!
R: I made these patterns off of a little kid’s tessellation site. I have hundreds of these patterns before I arrive at what I’m doing. People don’t understand all the work that goes into the abstraction. I love mythological stories and I was doing an entire show based on Persephone. Half if not all of my influences are from fashion photography—which is why I love black and white imagery so much . If you look at fashion photography, half if not more of the images are predominately black and white, which is where I derive my influences. I like all black and white with things kind of based off of quilts. DeHeem—I love his work (16th century ) and want to reinvent it. So I put elements of color back into the black and white, of vibrant color as well. And I love poppies, I’m obsessed with poppies.
Article by Jessica Libor