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Friday, April 27, 2018

Puzzled: Ryan Parr at Yates Gallery

Sunflower Remix Reprise 2016 - oil on canvas 51 x 51 inches
One of the hidden gems on the local art scene is the Yates Gallery at Siena College. Tucked into the second floor of the college's Standish Library, the Yates offers modestly scaled exhibitions in a quiet, well-lit space perfectly suited to the solo shows by emerging artists that it tends to favor.

The current show on view there (through May 14), entitled Puzzled, features 12 paintings and four drawings by Ryan Parr, a native of Iowa and UAlbany 2005 MFA recipient who, like so many of his fellows, has stuck around after graduation to become a regular part of the region's rich mix of artists. This is his first solo exhibition in the Northeast.

El Guggen Remix 2008 - oil on canvas
72 x 48 inches
I had previously thought of Parr as a photorealist or realist painter, but the range of techniques in this show clearly demonstrates he can't be so simply labeled. The 16 pieces all depict the titular puzzles - most of them in overall, nearly planar compositions - and hang together as a nice, tight group, but they also reveal a subtle diversity of styles and influences that I found quite pleasantly entertaining.

In a short statement that accompanies the show, Parr says, "I use drawings and photographs to develop elaborate compositions, and methodically paint them. ... I aspire to have each painting materialize in a different way." Parr also evokes in the statement his love of painting, with references to surface, marks, and brushstrokes. These elements all prove significant as one peruses the work.

Kiss Remix Reprise 2017 - oil on canvas
43 x 26 inches
While some artists play games that can be off-putting, Parr's sincerity is infectious, even while he plays. First, he emulates the representational techniques that led me to pigeonhole him as a realist; next, he puts out a masterly homage to the painterly pop of Jasper Johns; and then, he swings off into Cubist territory for a painting or two. All the while, the subject remains jigsaw puzzles, filtered through the lens of art history, but with a lighthearted humor that leaves academia far in the background. It's really good fun.

Just one thing had me a bit puzzled. The inclusion of two paintings that depict the jigsaw pieces in plastic zip bags, which transformed them from flat, illusionistic (even nearly abstract) images into more physical objects seemed a touch jarring. One of the two then adds a perplexing second jigsaw design that overlays the bag of pieces, reasserting the picture plane. As both of these are among the latest paintings in the show, I take them as a new direction that perhaps will make more sense as time goes on.

The nice thing about a good, mid-sized show like this is that it gives the viewer a chance to see enough of an artist's work to get a broad perspective and, as in this instance, sense the artist's trajectory through time. Based on the body of work shown here, it looks like Parr is on a good roll.

Map on Puzzle on White 2013 - oil on canvas 43 x 70 inches

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