Paper Magic: Review of the Rob Ryan exhibition at Air Gallery

Beautiful, whimsical and profound – new works from papercut artist Rob Ryan capture the imagination. The Stars Shine All Day Too is on at London’s Air Gallery until 20th November 2010.

Written by Jessica Furseth

Rob Ryan, All It Took
Rob Ryan, All It Took.

There is something heartbreaking about Rob Ryan’s art. His work shows us a world full of beauty, where people love and long for each other so all-consumingly that everything else pales in comparison. The surrounding scenery, intricately carved out in the tiniest details, cushions the people in Ryan’s world, creating a protective bubble where they can speak the most beautiful words in order to tell each other how they feel. While the characters in Ryan’s images seem to be in this intense state all the time, in the real world these special moments come and go. But most of us will at some point have experienced them, and so you’ll find yourself standing in front of one of Ryan’s large-scale cut-outs, craning your neck as you follow the winding text incorporated in the image, and think, ‘Yes, exactly. That’s what it’s like.’

Rob Ryan by Holly Trill
Rob Ryan by Holly Trill.

The private view of Rob Ryan’s new exhibition, The Stars Shine All Day Too, drew a crowd last Tuesday night at Mayfair’s Air Gallery. Large papercuts and screenprints, mostly monochrome in black on white, lined the walls of the small space, buzzing from the heat of the crowd enjoying vodka-champagne drinks. The artist himself was surrounded by guests eager for a chat, and a signature in their copy of the book, which pairs Ryan’s papercuts with a story by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Also on display was a collaboration between Ryan and the designer Lulu Guinness. The limited edition fan-shaped clutch bags, embellished in Swarovski crystals, go on sale Monday.

While the partnerships demonstrate the broad appeal of Ryan’s work, the act of viewing his art feels distinctively private. Especially studying the originals, where the slight paper-buckling causes delicate shadows, provokes an image of the artist hunched over a massive desk, knuckles white around a scalpel as he carves out leaves, birds, words and people. Undoubtedly a very time-consuming and fiddly process, you wonder how romantic Ryan feels if his knife slips and he cuts off the delicate paper strip connecting a shooting star, or even the heroine’s head. But the resulting work is romantic to the extreme, sincere and generous without a shred of irony. ‘Stars and galaxies rotate eternally, and you and I circle each other. For you are my universe entirely, and I will always be yours,’ reads the piece entitled Countless Moons, where the couple bathes in a pool under the stars.

Rob Ryan, Countless Moons
Rob Ryan, Countless Moons.

A few of the works lack text, such as Starry Night, showing a couple on a bench under a densely-starred sky. ‘Maybe it’s better that way, as you can interpret it how you like,’ my friend pointed out: ‘Like here, maybe she’s telling him to get his hands off her.’ I laughed, as this caption would get more giggles, for sure. But I can’t help but think we get our fill of sarcasm elsewhere, and we can always tune in to a re-run of Mock the Week later if all this loveliness is getting too saccharine sweet to bear. In fact, there’s something very refreshing about the unapologetic tenderness of Ryan’s work. ‘If you believe in love but find it difficult to explain, this is for you,’ Ryan once chiseled out – that sounds about right. Not that everything Ryan does is about romantic love, mind, as demonstrated by one of my favourite pieces at the show: ‘Look closer and closer and look further and further and listen harder and harder to the noise of our earth and the silence of the stars, and what you will hear is a small voice that whispers – don’t try to get, try to give …’

Rob Ryan by Jessica Stokes
Rob Ryan by Jessica Stokes.

It took me all night, but I finally managed to steal a minute or Ryan’s time in the end. I asked him, where does it all come from, the inspiration for all this? ‘Oh no, it’s an interview!’ he laughed, before he shrugged: ‘I don’t know anymore, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I get to go to my studio and do something I love. It just comes to me.’ Or at least he said something to this effect – by this point it was very loud and hot in the gallery, and having skipped dinner I should have declined that last vodka-champagne. Either way, Ryan’s disarming manner made me feel confident enough to tell him how I’d discovered his work, several years ago as I came across a picture in a magazine. It was a very simple papercut with large text over a row of houses: ‘Maybe in this very city or in a field a thousand miles away, but you must be patient and never despair, for one day we shall truly find each other.’ I’d just been dumped and was feeling something akin to despair at the time, but Ryan’s little print made me feel better. I don’t know what I expected Ryan to say to this, but his response was moving – his eyes lit up and he thanked thanked me for sharing it with him. Maybe that’s the sort of reaction he’s hoping for with his work, I wondered, but I didn’t get the chance to ask as autograph-hunters were circling closer and my moment with the star of the night was up.

Rob Ryan, Your Job
Rob Ryan, Your Job.

As the title of the show suggests, stars are a feature of most of the works displayed at the Air Gallery, but one piece stands out from this pattern. It’s a smaller cut-out in red, featuring not a couple but a boy and a bird. It reads: ‘Your job is to take this world apart and then put it back together again … but even better!’ And you read it and you think, ‘Yes, exactly. That’s what it’s like.’

See Rob Ryan’s The Stars Shine All Day Too at the Air Gallery, Dover Street, London W1, until 20th November 2010. Rob Ryan is represented by TAG Fine Arts. For more details check out our listing.

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5 Responses to “Paper Magic: Review of the Rob Ryan exhibition at Air Gallery”

  1. Sophia says:

    Love the last one. All of his pieces give me the warm fuzzies but I particularly like that last piece. By the way, do all his coupley ones look like they fit the boy/girl mould? His stuff would be even more fabulous (to me at least) if it was occasionally queered up a bit.

  2. Amelia says:

    Hi Sophia, thanks for your comment – I think Rob bases a lot of his work on his own relationship, hence the heterosexual nature of it all x

  3. lesley says:

    love rob ryan! made a pilgrimage to ryantown when I was last in london!

  4. Victoria says:

    I saw this last week, Rob Ryan’s works are utterly awe-inspiring! I can honestly say I have never gawped as much as I have here. I had to rememeber to take my jaw with me when I left.

  5. [...] Published in Amelia’s Magazine on 4 November 2010. Original article here. [...]

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