The titles of the paintings in Abbey Ryan’s current exhibit at Gleason Fine Art in Boothbay Harbor, such as “Still Life with Pear and Bumble Bee,” “Bowl of Cherries,” and “Mango on a Wood Block,” are self-explanatory. “Still Life with Pear and Bumble Bee” features a pear and a bumble bee, “Bowl of Cherries” a bowl of cherries, and “Mango on a Wood Block” a mango perched atop a block of wood.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the seeming simplicity of Ryan’s subject matter and the way she titles each small painting results in a work that is simplistic – or anything less than meticulously created, with an eye finely honed to capture detail and beauty.
Ryan is a former scientific illustrator at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. She shot to wide acclaim when her still-life artwork was featured in the February 2011 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine.
The visitor to Ryan’s current exhibit, “Abbey Ryan: Poetic Realism,” will likely be floored by Ryan’s attention to detail.
“Still Life with Stacked PB&J” features four peanut-butter-and-grape-jelly sandwiches cut in half diagonally and stacked high on a wooden cutting block so that the cut sides face the viewer. Glistening jelly and shiny peanut butter ooze from each half. Bits of jelly and peanut butter, and tiny crumbs, fleck the surface of the block. If one does not salivate upon looking at this carefully crafted painting, one likely does not have functioning taste buds, or at the very least dislikes peanut butter and jelly.
Similarly, “Two Pears on Blue Block from Patmos, Greece” depicts two green-hued pears that are so perfectly bulbous and ripe that one can easily imagine that the painter’s next step after painting them was to eat them.
Ryan excels at portraying reality so perfectly that it seems beyond perfect, hyper-beautiful. Additionally, her use of dark backgrounds behind her subjects and dark wooden frames for her paintings serves to focus the viewer’s attention on her stunningly constructed subject matter.
Ryan’s use of dark backgrounds and frames is also a nod to the 17th century Dutch still-life painters she studied in Europe when she was an art student.
“Still Life with Black Raspberries, Three Figs, and Humboldt Fog” and “Still Life with Jug, Cicada, Grapes, and Hazelnuts” are not-to-be-missed examples of Ryan at her finest. Her horizontal arrangement of the raspberries, figs, and cheese in the first painting, and the jug, grapes, and hazelnuts — with the playful addition of a cicada in front of the shiny jug – in the second calls attention to each element in the painting. A more traditional “bunching” of the still-life elements would not have the same effect.
Ryan included a couple of paintings of eyeglasses in her Gleason show – “Antique Wire-Rimmed Glasses” and “Spectacles” – which serve to show off her ability to exquisitely capture the gleam of reflected light.
Her little “Maine Lakes in the Fog,” a departure from her still lifes, is notable for the lovely, skilled use of various whites to create the effect of fog.
Ryan’s exhibit runs through Monday, Sept. 3. Gleason Fine Art is located at 31 Townsend Ave., Boothbay Harbor.
Learn more about Ryan and her art at abbeyryan.com.
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