James Ryan: Parallax (2 stars)

James Ryan: Parallax

Corn Exchange Gallery, Edinburgh, until Thu 17 Jul


Young painter James Ryan was the recipient of the Conran Foundation Award when he graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2007, yet his work falls between the pillar of artistic intent and the post of cleanly-realised design. In his attempt to mimic the neat lines of architecture it’s easy to see why his name would be associated with Conran, yet in his reappropriation of this style within the realm of abstract painting, his work also finds its meaning.

To most viewers, however, the pieces will represent little more than a pretty and aesthetically pleasing investment. Ryan’s reasoning in creating them is a flimsy one, but it’s bound essentially within the fabric of the work. The title of the show refers to the way an object changes in relation to an observer’s viewpoint of it, and these pieces offer a fundamentally different experience depending on the distance from which they’re viewed.

We are presented with 18 acrylic paintings on canvas, each showing various clusters of geometric shapes. Usually these take the form of squares, tipped onto their corners and comprised of various-sized triangles within. The angles of these squares create more triangles in the corner of each frame, and most of these unique shapes are then coloured differently. From a distance, the lines in these pieces are strong and solid, as if they were created by a machine.

Then the viewer adjusts their position. Close up, we can see the hand-tooled edges of each mark that has been made, each fuzzy-fringed line that has been painted by Ryan’s own hand. Striving for something close to perfection, he nevertheless can’t resist including his own flaws in the work, from the dribble of paint which has rolled down the face of ‘Cluster’ to the subtle lines which have marked the surface of an untitled triptych.

Other works, such as ‘Leblon’ and ‘Ghost’, resemble smashed and toppling panes of glass from a distance and rough shards of broken concrete when their faces have been investigated. While such formal playfulness adds to the experience of viewing Ryan’s art, it doesn’t disguise the fact that there’s something inherently dry and underwhelming about each painting, which may fail to draw the viewer to the necessary distance.

James Ryan: Parallax

  • 2 stars

Geometric shapes on acrylic from last year's Conran Foundation Award winner.

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