First, can you tell me a bit more about yourself? You’re currently based in Florida. Where are you from originally?
As an emerging/mid career artist, I balance my daily duties as Creative Director at a major advertising agency in Fort Lauderdale together with my lifelong calling as a fine artist. I grew up in the Boston area of Massachusetts where I received my Masters degree in Visual Design from the University of Massachusetts. It was a formal program in painting and sculpture, however my undergraduate studies were more of a concentration in graphic design.
What has your art education been like, formally or informally? What first interested you in making art?
My dad and grandfather were the biggest influences to me as a young boy. Dad was a photographer and excellent draftsman in portraiture. He drew portraits of his fellow navy servicemen in World War II, which they sent home to their loved ones. My dad told me a story of a letter he received, after he was discharged, from a widow of one of his company men that died in battle. In the letter she thanked my dad for the last image she ever received of her beloved husband and would cherish that drawing for the rest of her life. This showed me the impact art had in people’s lives. My grandfather, who was also very talented as a cabinet maker, not only influenced me in woodworking but left a great philosophical and spiritual impression on me through his words of wisdom. This lead to my later interest in Buddhism and spirituality.
From early childhood to my college education I drew and painted the reality of the simple everyday objects around me…and as real as could be. I took an interest in hyperrealism. I experienced a real satisfaction upon completing a painted image that would be mistaken for a photograph. However, I began to realize an enslavement to the process by painstakingly trying to capture the image as real as possible. It became more of a burden than pleasure during the creation stages.
Your work represents what you call a “physical structuring of spirituality” which invites viewers to experience the present in a certain way. Can you explain more about this as it relates to your practice?
I started looking at abstract expressionism and minimalism and found a spiritual freedom and passion that lead to creating new work. Work that was unique in itself. I still enjoyed working with simple objects but now in multi-mediums that involved painting, sculpture and photography. Today Home Depot is my candy store, from which I incorporate building materials along with found objects in the sculptures, paintings and photographs.
My work, marked out by a highly individualized philosophical and spiritual discourse, is established through the recourse to the use of simple objects and images based upon silence, and an invitation to the now moment. A search for balance within our consciousness and journey to clarity, emptiness and inner peace. Whether free-standing or wall mounted, the minimally constructed objects and photographs exude a Zen-like calm, engaging the viewer into spiritual contemplation and synchronicity. Discarded found objects and building materials form the basis of all my mediums. I bring their often overlooked beauty to light, front and center.
Have you been influenced by anyone or anything in particular, whether as it relates to your work specifically, or to your entire practice?
Some of my heroes are literally masters of transforming materials and giving them a new identity. I saw the freedom in abstract expressionism through the likes of Cy Trombly and Franz Kline. The acts and results of Joseph Beuys work. The seriousness and contemplative experience through minimal works of Brice Marden and Donald Flavin. And the spiritual playfulness in works from Pedro Cabrita Reis, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Claudio Parmiggiani.
Constantly looking at other artist’s work, museums and galleries, I have a paradigmatic involvement in the awareness of a new contemporary art movement. There is an innocence and rawness to much of the work being produced today.
What is your studio like?
I have had several studio spaces within my home environments, from spacious cellars and rooms, to a large devoted garage studio. Currently I reside in a small condo in West Palm Beach, so my working space is limited to producing smaller scale work, and a concentration in contemporary photography. You learn to adapt to your environment and as cliché as it may sound, I always tell beginning artists searching for space to develop their work; “if there’s a passion and a will, there’s a way.”
You’ve shown pretty extensively at both exhibitions and art fairs; do you have any words of wisdom for artists who might be approaching working with a gallery or preparing a major exhibition for the first time?
My exhibition involvement started right out of college beginning with my graduate thesis show. From there I started exhibiting in smaller local galleries, retail spaces and art fairs. A New York gallerist and curator took interest in my work and invited me for my first solo at the New Century Gallery in Chelsea. Continued invitations to other galleries in the Chelsea art district followed. The Heidi Cho gallery in New York represented me and included my work in shows between 2006 – 2008 which resulted in several sales.
What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of pursuing art seriously? What is the most rewarding part?
The challenge I started facing, and still do to this day, was finding a balance between creating my art, my advertising career and of course family life. But the creative drive and passion instilled in me continues as I constantly seek out and develop new ideas that are brought to life. Today, selection into international art fairs and galleries in, Miami, Amsterdam, Italy, London and Austria has boosted that drive.
Do you have any exhibitions or current projects you’re working on?
I am currently working on a catalog of my present work that will soon be published.
Find more at michaelfrancisryan.com!
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