New York Buzzing with vivacity, these colorful new paintings by Ryan Schneider illustrate quirky characters in domestic interiors and rural settings. His third solo show since 2006 at this gallery, “Send Me Through” comprised 10 oil paintings (all 2009) ranging in size from 11 by 14 inches to 8 by 14 feet. Schneider employs bold hues and patterns to construct these vivid scenes: friends on the beach, a shared summertime meal. Even the two works devoid of people depict cozy, internally lit dwellings, suggesting that someone is home. Yet alongside this sense of presence are hints of absence, and titles such as So We Disappear and Self Portrait as Missing connote the impermanence of existence.
Schneider’s large-scale scenes are more intriguing than his small, unrefined portraits. The imposing This is What We Leave Behind (8 by 14 feet) offers a curious tableau in which a giant dead shark has washed ashore. Several chunky and awkward swimsuit-clad figures stand about on the beach, the aquatic carcass eliciting concerned and perplexed facial expressions that are crudely rendered. Wide brushy strokes make up the sand bank, and wavy bands of cerulean animate the surface of the sea. With palette knives and brush handles, Schneider incises enigmatic phrases into the paint, such as “I had a good one then” and “Again and again and today, here and again tomorrow.” In most of the works one finds various inscriptions, sometimes hidden among layers of reworked paint. Rather than elucidate the often peculiar scenarios, these scribbles speak to a broader cluster of experiences, perhaps derived from Schneider’s past.
“October morning I drove you home,” for example, appears in Self Portrait as Missing, a closely cropped view of a featureless figure sitting on a couch and barricaded by two coffee tables littered with empty booze bottles. Constituted by flesh-colored washes and pinkish paint drips, the body bears the above-mentioned phrase scrawled across its chest. Bold geometric designs are crammed onto every other surface: striped wallpaper, a chevron-patterned blanket, square tiles atop the tables, etc. The busy domestic surroundings—strongly recalling Matisse—contrast with the washy remains of the artist’s body, which almost looks like it was excised from the canvas. Schneider’s placement of a flaccid houseplant, sadly drooping near the figure’s groin, furthers the visual metaphor: here but not, present but ineffectual.
The use of text made the show. Some of the poetic expressions read like journal entries in their personal and reflective nature, such as “Demons have been slain” and “If life was different tonight,” both in So We Disappear, a scene of five towering figures on a beach scattered with shells and crustaceans. The process of unearthing words within the pictures encouraged the viewer to engage and to linger.
Reminiscent of the vibrant figurative paintings of Dana Schutz and recent landscapes by David Hockney, Schneider’s works are set apart by his use of ambiguous and intimate language. He creates emotional images that brim with genuine exuberance, tinged by nostalgia for moments past.
Photo: Ryan Schneider: Self Portrait as Missing, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 by 60 inches; at Priska C. Juschka.