Fall Apart in My Back Yard: Ryan Travis Christian @ Halsey McKay
Just as we were getting used to Ryan Travis Christian's long-awaited transition to canvas, the artist is already utilizing a new technique and medium to develop an entirely new suite of work. Holding onto the meticulous linework and the soft appearance of his visuals, the new body of work comprising his current, second solo show with Halsey McKay in East Hampton is introducing something we can best describe as abstracted comic figuration.
Borrowing the title from the song The Bare Necessities from the Jungle Book, Fall Apart in My Back Yard looks like yet another major showcase and a huge step forward for one of our favorite artists. While clearly stepping aside from signature imagery imbued with humor and slapstick jokes, the new body of work still envelops the similar ambiance present in Christian's most recognized work. Portraying organic-looking tree shapes which also reminisce his characters caught mid-action, the new oil and graphite on canvas paintings and graphite on paper drawings are putting the accent on the forms, volumes, and surfaces, rather than the narrative or the punchline. Ambiguous to the very border of abstraction, it's the way they're perched on the horizon or tree-like structure that suggests the existence of figuration between otherwise abstract, bubbly (figuratively and literally), formations.
Applying his masterful shading and smudging technique as well as adorning his creations with Polkadot or similar simple patterns, Christian is accentuating their spatial qualities while staying on the verge of an abstract sphere. With subtle suggestions of grins appearing between such patterns, or limb-like shapes protruding from the main mass, he creates confusion between the familiar and inexplicable. This balance between the known and the unknown, the amusing and threatening, culminates in the title of the show which suggests taking it easy, even through the bleak, chaotic, and terrifying circumstances. And while such a general vibe can be read more clearly in his past oeuvre, it is great to see the Chicago area-based artists being able to step away from such literal narration and convey the same ambiance through non-representational, almost cryptic shapes and forms. Instead of strictly commenting on the economy, the environment, gender, class, hope, sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, depression, or death, Christian seems to be reaching the point where he can envision and portray the metaphorical embodiments of related emotions and states of mind. Entitled F.A.M.B.Y. A, B, C, and D, the main four canvases or the accompanying drawings could easily be representing such states as frenzy, anxiety, numbness, ecstasy, gloominess, solitude, regret, hope, or futility. —Sasha Bogojev