Studio Visit with Ryan Bubnis
A few weeks ago, I set out to the Northeast side of Portland for a studio visit with Ryan Bubnis to catch a sneak peek of what he's been working on for his latest show The Space Between. When I arrive, I'm immediately greeted with a warm welcome not only by Ryan but by his renowned cat, Chunks. If you're familiar with Ryan's work, then chances are you know Chunks too. A big, fluffy Norwegian Forest cat, Chunks has served as a muse for Ryan from time to time thereby making several appearances in previous paintings.
The three of us walk into the studio where tons of inspiration cover the walls and lay scattered about. Also on the walls are a collection of nine new small works on panel along with a few larger paintings waiting for final touches until their big reveal. The nine panels are wonderful examples of Ryan's focus on the simplification of form in bold, vibrant hues. As I take in the artwork, I see symbols referencing the skateboard culture of Ryan's youth along with shapes connected to his earlier work and life in the Pacific Northwest.
With the larger paintings, the intense color palette and simple design is there as it is with the smaller ones, but these works also display greater whimsy and expanded narratives. There's a recurring female figure in these with one painting titled 'She Was Our Harshest Critic'. I ask if the figure is his wife Cecelia. Ryan hints that it's her standing on his first skateboard, but ultimately his goal is for the viewer to create his or her own story through the symbolism.
Nearly every morning Ryan begins a daily exercise for his creative brain by sketching in notebooks. He brought out a few of these notebooks to show the brainstorming process behind his latest collection for the show. Certain elements from the original sketch have been changed or taken out completely in the final version, further illustrating Ryan's constant exploration of simplification. The sketchbooks even show a new idea that he's experimenting with, that of transparent layers. In one particular book, page after page of symbols overlap one another in hues of pink and green. It seems that the concept works beautifully on paper, but as Ryan points out his latest attempt to translate the visual on wood panel, it's clear to us both that some tweaking is still needed. Something to look forward to perhaps.
Watching Ryan's progression as an artist has been extremely rewarding. Although the elements have always been there in previous work, Ryan's current collection has taken clean design even further. The work is deceptively simple and remarkably sophisticated. It's incredibly challenging to keep an object or figure recognizable (and interesting) while pairing it down to the basics. And Ryan Bubnis has done just that.
The Space Between opens September 9th at Stephanie Chefas Projects, 305 SE 3rd Ave #202, Portland, OR 97214, www.stephaniechefas.com