"Promise Witness" by Ryan Whelan @ pt.2 Gallery, Oakland
It’s possible the lushness of this landscape brought me back to where Ryan’s previous works had left us; deep within intimately crafted verdant worlds, where the burdens of modernity fell to the consumption of nature. One piece of his in particular, made in 2020, exhibited this stance.
There’s an open field
Just growing greener.
Although these lines do not necessarily apply to the aesthetic direction these new works take, I find the ethos of this poetic observation perfectly summarizes the ultimate voice he is interested in casting out to us.
Prior to this metastasization of thought, I had solicited the help of Ryan’s most trusted confidant, his wife & fellow artist Liz Hernandez, for advice as to how to proceed with drafting language about this new body of work. She went on to say; his paintings function as totems of self-reflection. These forms remind us of our insignificance and offer us a bigger perspective. They are emblems that make us question our mortality because they will outlive us. The phrase Promise Witness rang through me. Something I see as a moral commitment to the responsibilities and consequences of living one's life as a witness to all possibilities.
I had initially considered these to be oppositional works; rooted in their distaste for the commodification of theme, or narrative in contemporary art. I was wrong. What I had begun to realize is through this gestural abstraction, Ryan encourages us to transcribe our individual internal resonance, like Spicer encouraged the resonant howl of the Outside. Through the addition and subtraction of layers, the symphonic harmony of raking light, the choreographed utilization of both hands, and the intentionality of stroke, an experiential practice unfolds itself. These are undoubtedly works of Ryan’s, the familiarity of keystone elements remains silently in command. They are simply free to move themselves in any direction at the behest of an artist who finds himself standing on the verge amid a revelatory glow.
Written by Cole Solinger // Promise Witness will be on view at pt.2 Gallery through June 3, 2022