Kathryn Ryan

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Kathryn Ryan's paintings conjure the mysteries of winter, deep mists and coloured hues enveloping the shadowy forms of trees in the landscape, elements that have an emblematic quality of the South West Victoria.

She draws on memories of childhood, growing up in a large family on a dairy farm at Panmure near Warrnambool. She said that when she looks out at the landscapes and various trees, she is reminded that she has observed these same views as a child, younger adult to now.

“The landscape in some ways is a witness to our lives as we are to the changes in the landscape. When I am developing ideas for an exhibition I am initially driven by how I want the feel of the work to be, looking for what moves me, often starting with the interesting shape of a tree and the quality of light."

Kathryn began working with landscape imagery after questioning as a young artist, where she was going with her work.  She stopped painting for a year and wrote her family history and her family stories.

“I thought I would jot it all down while I could remember, and through that I realised that you go back to what you know, and for me it was the farming landscape - so I decided to explore that.

“We were always surrounded by the weather and the landscape, and there is a familiarity with muddy paddocks or the dusty dry roads; one of my brothers is a poet who writes about the same topics, our farming background and life in the country, sensitive observations.” she said.

In 2000 she began showing with Flinders Lane Gallery and through these exhibitions moody wintry landscapes with pine or cypress trees exploring light and distance became themes.

The farm upbringing offered a lot of time and space on your own, looking out at the wide landscapes and witnessing first hand all the changing weather and seasons, helped develop a sensitive and  observant language... “I think there was a lot of isolation when I look back at it.  You caught the bus to school and otherwise we were at home on the farm making our own entertainment.

She developed her distinctive style through trial and error.  “In some ways not having all the technical /traditional knowledge drives a trial and error approach and working things out as you go, experimenting and finding the approach that best works for you. I was trying to find a way to build depth and many layers in oil paint without the surface becoming too shiny.

“Sometimes when I hear oil painters say if they make a mistake they can just cover it up... however as I work in many transparent layers, this isn't the case, as each layer can be seen, so I have to correct things as I go and be aware that each layer and underpainting can be seen."

Kathryn begins with a sketch, and uses very thin paint, slowly building layer on layer, sometimes wet on wet, leaving each layer to dry in between for a minimum of 10 days.

“In earlier years I used to build the painting in a fairly laboured way. To get the depth I was after without the paint going too shiny I would layer the glazes alternatively with dry zinc white scumbled into the wet glazes.

“I might have done for example a bluish glaze, then with a rough brush scumbled the zinc , which dulled the work like a fog, then when dry, adding more glazes and more scumbled dry white - a process of pushing it back and pulling it forward.”

"In recent years, my process has changed, and once the underpainting has been done, I am using large wide brushes to glaze and often working wet on wet with the zinc white to blend each layer as I go, especially in the sky. This part has to be done very quickly, to blend, and it is often a case of either it works or I have to turps it off and start again. This process is repeated many times and I am  often re- working and re painting the original under work as well “You have to do it very quickly – working on 6ft (1.83m) canvases, you have to use a lot of energy  because you get hardly any time before the paint goes tacky.”

During COVID19 her work practice has changed, as she has slowed to a more considered pace letting the art works lead her. Her last exhibition was forced to go online when her gallery had to close its doors.  They hung the work in the space and presented the show virtually and found that because people were at home looking at their walls, it sold well.

Kathryn said the gallery model and the way artists are presenting their works is changing and evolving, even more so with COVID19 restrictions. She had seen the economy changing for some time and because most people don’t have the space for large works and they can become too expensive, she chose to create smaller works, some the size of a hand, as well as medium and larger works for her recent exhibition.

“I was happier to do smaller works and began to love the process of intimately connecting using 10 over zero brushes one dot at a time.”

Being out in the landscape, and continuing to view the ever-changing light and weather is still a consistent inspiration in her work, and she is always adding to her large photographic reference library which is used as source material for the paintings.

“The painting references of particular trees or a landscape come from what I am seeing, however the mood and light is often imagined, for example my reference photo may have been of a bright sunny day and I have depicted a moody evening light in the painting.

“I tend to work in a series when I am doing an exhibition, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about my intentions / vision, of how I want the body of works to be, the feel of the work, reflecting  what is of concern to me in my life at that particular time, often gathering my thoughts as writing first. In my last exhibition, Landscapes of Time and Memory, I was thinking about the landscape which I had moved away from and now returned to.

“What my work is about hasn’t really changed, those concerns are fundamental for me.

The Way Home & Landscapes of Time and Memory, my last two exhibitions, reiterate these concerns in my work.

Image: Kathryn Ryan's studio (photo courtesy Kathryn Ryan)