Will Ryman is known for his hyper-enlarged sculptures which use manipulate expectations of size and materials to create absurd spaces.
The Manhattan-born artist started off as a playwright who was highly influenced by Absurdist philosophy, but when his plays were not proving to be marketable, he made a fascinating shift. Ryman told The New York Times: “I wanted to invent a new kind of theater,” he added, “in which actors were removed, and props somehow told the story.” You can hear Ryman on his art on the Leonard Lopate show here.
Ryman's larger-than-life forms instill gut-level joy in the viewer, but the understated poetry in the oversized works takes them beyond their initial visual appeal. Ryman's careful use of materials exposes the associations we hold on to in reference to mundane objects and subconscious narratives. He asks us to turn these automatic associations upside down as the gallery space becomes a supersized dreamland.
Now at Paul Kasmin Gallery, Ryman has created three mesmerizing sculptures. The first, "Everyman", is a 90-foot figure made out of found shoes and silver bottle caps -- it is ambiguous whether he is sleeping or approaching death. The piece "Beginning, Madeleine, Signature, and Infinity" is a 14-foot labyrinth made of 200,000 paintbrushes. Finally, "Bird", inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven", is a giant fowl made of 1500 nails.
We asked Ryman some questions about his work:
HuffPost Arts: How did you choose such unorthodox materials for this exhibition? How, for example, did you connect nails with the Raven?
WR: Individual nails can reference many things. Agression. Crucifiction. They are hard. They are cold. But when i use them in abundance, and change their scale, the nails appear to become soft. Almost billowy. The meaning of the nails change, and the experience changes. Then, as they form the shape of the bird, the meaning changes again. It becomes dangerous, yet also gentle at the same time.
HuffPost Arts: From the sleeping giant to the labyrinth to the raven, there is a fairy tale element that runs throughout this exhibition. And yet your materials are very "everyday" objects. How do you see the relationship between fantasy and banality?
WR: Most of my work has to do with contradiction. The contradiction between surrealism, and realism. Fantasy and reality. I use scale, and everyday materials to make sculptures that express this contradiction. It's much like how a child might see the world. A child sees the world larger than it actually is. Distorted. Almost cartoonish. At least I did when I was a child. And often times i still do.
HuffPost Arts: What work of art inspires you?
WR: "Group of Suntanned faces", Jean Dubuffet. Also "Painting, Sleeping, Eating," Philip Guston.
HuffPost Arts: The scale of your work transforms galleries into a sort of sculpture all their own. Do you spend a lot of time addressing the gallery itself as part of the sculpture or does its transformation happen as an after-effect?
WR: Yes. I do. In the case of "Everyman", the concept was to turn the commercial symbol of the Chelsea gallery into a sculpture by building a 90-foot figure out of bottle caps and shoes, and using the gallery itself as part of the sculpture. The representation of the figure is a contradiction to the commercialism that the gallery represents. I wanted to have the sculpture move around the viewer as opposed to the viewer moving around the sculpture.
Will Ryman's "Everyone and No One" will show at the two locations of Paul Kasmin Gallery until March 24.