For his fourth solo exhibition at Western Exhibitions in Chicago, Ryan Travis Christian (featured in our Spring 2021 Quarterly right now) is having a big, long-awaited debut of his oil-on-canvas practice, alongside series of his signature graphite on paper works. Making this showcase even more of a milestone, the artist also presents a group show in Gallery 2 space of the venue, highlighting some of his favorite artists working today.

After years of working almost exclusively with small-scale works on paper, RTC recently started slowly dripping his canvas works in a couple of recent group exhibitions. Informed by his life philosophy “Keep It Affordable,” which affected both his artwork and living during his 20s, the artist's dedication to the small formats and graphite sfumato comes from his personal love and appreciation for old rubber hose animation and vintage comics and cartoons. "That style is the first time people saw shit where the rules of physics and stuff were all thrown out the window," the artist told Juxtapoz in his recent interview. And through his practice, he started utilizing this facet to make public satire, images that address political scandals, debauchery, taboos, petty crime, and cheap thrills, seen through his intrusive thoughts. With some of them being "just fuckin' dumb," while others are "more thoughtful and sophisticated," as he explained to us, he has become "the master of nonsense" and is currently elevating his practice to arguably more recognized and traditional technique and format.

And while the big part of his signature aesthetics got lost with the use of slimy oils and a larger scale, the impact of his visuals has arguably strengthened with the new works on canvas. The titular and kind of a show introduction piece, Cryin Ryan is a group portrait of his colorful yet monochromatic cast posing in front of a pair of keen (likely artist's) eyes. Subtitled RTC STUDIOS, the image is another nod to the vintage cartoons and comics that so strongly influenced his practice, both on a technical and contextual level. Unable to work with the same level of intricacy he rendered in graphite, Christian is now forced to get even more focused on the punchline of his tragic-erotic imagery. Both exploring and utilizing this "new" technique, its limitations and possibilities are clearly informing new concepts and approaches to storytelling. This is notable in such pieces as Flirtatious Eagle, Stoned Bird, The Stinking Kitty, or Diamond Dog Deluxe, in which the focus is entirely put on the single subject and the story is created through the distinctive qualities of the oil paint. Still interested in drawing "things I don’t see but want to see more of" the 7 works on canvas feel like the truthful move of his graphite visuals into a more traditional format.

But aside from being an artist himself, RTC is an art aficionado himself, whose involvement with the world of both collecting and art marking developed hand-in-hand. "I started going to gallery shows in Chicago in the West Loop or Western Exhibitions, which is my current gallery," he told us in the interview, naming the likes of Eddie Martinez, Cody Hudson, or Maya Hayuk as his original influences. "It got me excited and got the ball rolling in my head that I wanted to contribute to that world." And in an effort to celebrate his journey to date, which "snowballed into organizing shows of art I liked that weren’t coming to Chicago," as well as going "out to San Francisco and bring a bunch of Chicago art to show them," Ryan Travis Christian curated a group show entitled Figure 9. On view simultaneously with his solo presentation and taking over Gallery 2 space, this presentation is comprising works by some of his favorite artists and dear friends including Bill Adams, Raven Halfmoon, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Jess Johnson, Hein Koh, Eddie Martinez, Christian Rex Van Minnen, Lamar Peterson, and Emily Mae Smith. —Sasha Bogojev