About the Artist
Ryan Frank is an artist and curator based in Brooklyn, a native of California and a graduate of New York University. Ryan’s work is a unique blend of photography and sculpture through a variety of forms including light boxes, windows and large-scale installation. He's had solo exhibitions at the Invisible Dog Art Center and the Mattatuck Museum and has exhibited his work at venues including The Queens Museum, The Jewish Museum, The Wassaic Project, The Bronx Museum and the Dumbo Arts Festival. His curatorial projects include Used Books at Winkleman Gallery, Reflective Landscape at The Granary, A Very Anxious Feeling at the Mattatuck Museum and I Like the Sound of That at Artspace New Haven. This fall the Invisible Dog Art Center will present his public installation Bergen Street Windows. Ryan is an avid runner, traveler, writer, and occasional performer.
My artwork combines sculpture and photography, object and imagery, the vastness and complexities of landscape contained within manmade structures such as doors, windows, boxes and other geometric formations. I take photographs of places I visit and moments I witness, not for traditional documentation but rather as a means to better understand them in their natural logic. My images are manipulated digitally and tangibly; cut up, combined and layered; and placed within constructed objects and architectural spaces. These processes transcend photography’s two-dimensionality and provide a greater context, perspective and experience than what is initially seen through my camera’s viewfinder.
By Lucy Commoner, May 2017
You have a long history of involvement with the Wassaic Project. How has your connection with the Wassaic Project community and even perhaps your familiarity with the interior architecture of the Mill building as a venue for art impacted your practice?
My time in Wassaic affected my work in countless ways. During my first summer at the residency I made sculpture and installation using found spaces and materials in the barn. Most of the content of this early work was animal portraiture — placing images of animals in containers such as fences, doors, and stacked milk crates. It was work that was very much of the environment in and around the Wassaic Project and this led me to make work about landscape. In 2011 I made a large-scale installation within the wooden stairs of Maxon Mills, immersing a photo of a mountainous cliff within the steps, a reference to the building architecture. This piece and others I was fortunate to make while in Wassaic were quite transformative for my practice — it allowed me to play with space and human proportion in a way I hadn’t before.
Your involvement in the art world has been not only as an artist, but also through your work with collectors and galleries and as a curator yourself. How has this deep exposure to contemporary art affected your own work? Are there any particular artists who have influenced you?
I used to compartmentalize the dual components of my professional life — as curator and artist and even as sculptor and photographer — and in time I see how those roles and interests have melded together. Curating and managing a collection of contemporary art taught me about artists’ methods and materials, conservation, art installation and the process of making an exhibition — helpful knowledge to have as an artist or any art professional. I see that impact on the work I am making now. The exposure of a wide range of contemporary art gave me many reference points and it was helpful to get a grasp of what kind of artist I wanted to be — not just in terms of the type of work I make, but also where my work could be exhibited and seen. There are countless artists who have made a strong impact on me as both my curatorial projects and art practice. I think I most admire artists whose have an awareness of art history, a mastery of their materials while also a willingness to take risks and let their work evolve.
Your work often involves the insertion of photography into sculpture in both wall-mounted and freestanding works. You also have created installation and performance pieces. How do you view these two art works fitting into your practice in general?
I see photography and sculpture as two distinct and complimentary components of my practice — both are pivotal elements in my work and inform one another. Like everyone with a phone or camera at their disposal I take photographs of things I see that catch my attention — and sometimes there are themes and interests that develop — i.e. roads, the ground, the sky, works of antiquity. When I shoot photographs I sometimes have a vague sense of how I might want to use them in artworks but usually that decision comes after I have gone through the photos and allowed them to process in my mind. I am interested in bringing imagery out of a two dimensional realm (whether on paper or on a screen) and immersed within objects and spaces that interact with the viewer and reference my own experience taking the photo.
One way of looking at the body of your work is that it often involves the juxtaposition of movement and stasis, whether it is literally through your collaborations with choreographers in which your sculptures provide stable points of interaction for the dancers, or your wall pieces and sculptures where you use hard-edged geometric and architectonic structures to create windows into your photographs whose imagery implies movement — highways, clouds, nature, and figures.
My interest in sculpture and installation derived from the fact that the viewer experiences it through different perspectives, fully in their body. These are not just wall pieces that exist in a flat plane, they encourage the viewer to see what is around and behind them as much as what is in front of them. My first solo exhibition was a series of wall mounted sculptural wooden light-boxes that I started making while I was an artist-in-residence at the Wassaic Project. Each work contained multiple images of roads facing opposite directions and viewers had to walk around the works in order to see both sides. Watching people interact with the work, moving from side to side, bending over and peering in reminded me of dance and this led me to collaborate with a choreographer to create a performance inspired by the movement that the boxes required. I saw that process as both a form of research and an expansion of that work into another realm of time and space. I am a runner, go hiking and enjoy driving long distances in my car — the latter two often take me to places where I end up photographing. Movement through space is an overarching theme in my work as a visual artist — whether it be on a road or trail or subtly within your own body. A slight movement can completely change one’s vision, not to mention that everything around us is in a constant state of change. Photography is a way to capture a single moment in time, more than we can in our own vision and memory.
What is the significance of the mirrors in these two pieces? Do the mirrors provide an interactive aspect to the work?
Some of my earliest works involved reflections — whether they were literal mirrors or figuratively reflective objects and materials. In these works mirrors offer reflection and interaction with the viewer and also reference the content of the original Greek statues. When I photographed these two sculptures at the Archeological Museum in Athens I was struck by their life-size proportion, the detail, and the realistic portrayal of both intimacy and mortality. Standing in front of them they felt so immediate, so current and reflective of our own emotions and psychology. Like most objects from antiquities, both of these statues had large sections that were missing, and my inclusion of mirrors was a way to reference this fragmentation. I later learned that mirrors are often portrayed in grave relief statues since they were objects associated with relatives of the recently deceased in Ancient Greece. I found that fascinating, considering that covering mirrors is part of the Jewish ritual of Shiva — one culture eliminates mirrors during the act of mourning while another fully embraces it. While our modern perception of mirrors is often related to vanity, I believe there is a more complex connection between seeing one's reflection and recognizing one's own mortality. These works help to illustrate that point — seeing yourself outside your own body and possessing a heightened and altered awareness of the present.
What insights/feelings would you like an observer to take away from these particular art pieces?
I started making these works in November, just after the election, at a time of great political uncertainty in our own country and the fact that Classicism was en vogue during the rise of 20th-century Fascism was on my mind. Looking at the original works in Athens, or the ruins at the Acropolis one sees a great civilization that eventually declined, decayed, and has since been appropriated to fit our own ideals. We see and take away what we want from it. While this material and era of history has been studied intensely and thoroughly for many centuries, there is still so much we don't know and probably will never know some of these objects: how they were constructed, who made them, their original purpose and how they were used. I find it incredible to think that these works were originally just large pieces of marble, excavated and carved in great detail with simple tools, painted bright colors and then and placed in large and complex spatial arrangements. What is left are fragments of the original stone, the paint faded away to reveal a clean white surface — a regression back to the to the original, natural form. I suppose my interest lies in uncovering some physical or psychological truth about these objects that their current tactile forms can't portray. The material is dense in both its meaning and mystery and my works aim to uncover that.
Photos by Verónica González Mayoral