By Britni Rachal
Portrait by Weston Carls
Artwork by Ryan Davis
Artist Eye View:
With artwork centered purely around paint, Ryan Davis is a University of Texas graduate. Deep and intentional, Davis is known for taking a unique and vibrant approach to artwork.
What inspires you to paint so vibrantly?
“I think it started with being fascinated by the explosion of color a loaded watercolor brush delivers to wetted paper. I had a natural impulse to let the color ‘speak’ in its purest way. I was looking at Georgia O’Keeffe watercolors and I was obsessed with how bold and clean the color was; it felt almost irreverent in a way — there’s not this sense that she had to hold back. When I started painting as a teenager with the intention that I would try to make art, I tried to reach that effect that O’Keeffe achieved. I never got there, but I think that’s how my color language began.”
Do you ever stray from your typical types of painting?
“Every once in a while. I do at least one batch of watercolors every year. In residencies I tend to do watercolors as well. I spent a lot of my early years making lithographs, and I had a phase of mixed media drawings on paper that used every material I could think of to throw at the work. I did a group show utilizing a batik process in 2017, and have worked with monoprinting, which I really love. I also had a pretty intense photography phase, meaning ‘art’ photography that I’ve pretty much abandoned. But essentially I’ve always worked within the bounds of the 2D world.”
When did you first start painting? What inspired you to become an artist?
“I started painting in an intentional, ‘idea-of-art-way’ when I was 13 or 14, somewhere in those teen years when I really started thinking about the creative life. It suited me and it felt very natural and worth doing — to participate in the creation of culture in some way. It felt like one of the most important aspects of life, immensely challenging and gratifying at the same time. The deepness of it could sustain a lifetime, I thought. I would look at these impressionist painters and get the feeling of painting stirring in my soul. I wanted more of that; it was exciting and vital. And so I kept on going in that direction, even though I wasn’t sure where it would lead. The willingness and ability to create works over time, along with the time investment and tolerance to failures and difficulties, establishes a working momentum, a practice, which is more important than inspiration.”
What should people consider when shopping for a new piece of artwork?
“It’s important to get the scale right. Hanging work is a contextual challenge; you have to consider the surrounding textures, colors and lighting situation in your home. A big work can crowd a wall or command it; a small work can provide the perfect accent. It’s also good to do your homework on the artist; knowing their story can go a long way to understanding where you fit as a collector in the scheme of the larger art world. Collectors become a part of the story, and as a collection grows you learn where you fit in the narrative. You learn about what you value; you build a small world. And of course, you may build a type of investment portfolio. Seeing art in person is always better than shopping online. When you go to galleries you have a chance to connect with the gallerist or maybe even the artist and the community. Go to shows! The best feeling is discovering a piece you love out in the wild and acquiring it right then and there.”
What are some of the favorite trends you are seeing this year within painted art?
“I wish I knew more about it, honestly. Figuration is still in, especially with fauvist color schemes and stylized figuration. I see a lot of fuzzily-painted, atmospheric, low contrast color abstracts that remind me of a Bonnard palette. Ghostly and whisper quiet. I see a lot of work that seems inspired by Matthew Wong (not a bad thing). Simple, elegant, hard-edged abstracts. Squiggle paintings. Effusive gestural abstractions with lurid or floral color schemes. Geometric paintings that almost have an in-your-face spirituality or alien quality, just a notch shy of psychedelic.”
What is one of your favorite exhibits that you’ve done and why?
“I don’t show too much. I quite liked my last solo show in January 2020 at Ivester Contemporary. It took place during a tough spot in the pandemic in Austin, so I didn’t really promote it. But it was cool to see works from the last five years all hung together and talking. Seeing that reassured me that there was progression in the work, but also that each painting was a facet of a longer-term project that made sense.”