Profiling: Will Ryman


Will Ryman is known as the creator of crude and wacky figurative sculptures, and papier-mâché urban detritus, some of it 20 feet tall. That output might make him an unlikely offspring of the celebrated minimalist painter Robert Ryman. But growing up in New York City with a famous artist for a father, Will Ryman’s teenage impulse was to steer clear of the art world.

Ryman spent 12 years working as a playwright, creating short, fast-paced scenes that explored characters with twisted psyches. “Maureen,” is about a lonely woman on the verge, and is set in a dank bedroom interior. The play opens as Maureen and a group of women prepare for a night out. The piece was cast with multiple actors but the audience slowly comes to discover that Maureen’s friends are actually her motley personae.

Over the course of his career, Ryman experienced writers block, and used a childhood pastime to work out his ideas, building miniature dioramas. Ryman used the same näive construction and materials—wood, clay, whatever he found in his grade-school art box—and the early artworks referenced the slapdash, chaotic energy of New York City street culture. Since then, his methods of construction have exploded, and matured, to huge size and detail. And while Ryman has a great appreciation for his father’s art, as a sculptor and a writer, the late work of Philip Guston has been a more direct influence. Ryman cites the artist’s oversized cartoonish figures for their colors typically associated with love and passion, as models for his own type of figurative psychological study. (PHOTOS BY MARY BARONE)

Ryman’s newest body of work, A New Beginning, is an installation made up mostly of larger-than-life size sculptures of roses in steel, epoxy, resin, aluminum, and plaster painted in shades of red, coral and dawn-tinted pink on green stems. The work will take over the entire main gallery. A recent visit to Ryman’s studio revealed a few of those giant roses, some bursting and others wilting. They were arranged so as to camouflage the replicas of trash common in Ryman’s earlier bodies of work: litter from the junk most of us crave to pollute our bodies. The artist explains that the rose represents the figures he’s used in other installations, and that as a representation of the human figure, it’s a thorny one:  “When I started to really get into the piece it occurred to me the rose has also become a symbol of global consumption. It’s used to sell everything from greeting cards to candy to healthcare. It’s another kind of reckless abuse of man and nature.”

A New Beginning opens September 10. Marlborough Chelsea is located at 545 West 25th Street, New York.
An illustrated catalogue with an essay by John Yau will be available at the time of the exhibition.