by Shailaja TripathiSep 11, 2020
The New York-based artist Kathleen Ryan was recently in the news for her comment on waste and overproduction as her sculptures of mold-covered fruit hit social media on World Food Day (October 16). The irony of Ryan’s work lies in the fact that she uses precious and semi-precious stones like malachite, opal, and smoky quartz to form the simulacrum of common green rot on each fruit. Hence, the object both attracts and repels viewers at the same time.
Ryan (b. 1984, Santa Monica, California) also works on a larger-than-life scale where she creates a foam base, rudimentarily painted to map out the fresh and rotten areas on the surface. She then individually places each gemstone, with varied shapes, sizes, and colours that emulate the shift from desirable to disgusting. Lemons are a particular favourite, but Ryan also works with oranges and pears, with each work scaling six to 29 inches. “The sculptures are beautiful and pleasurable, but there’s an ugliness and unease that comes with them,” Ryan told The New York Times. Indeed, in their opulence and over ripeness, the pieces recall the partially consumed fruit of 17th-century Dutch Vanitas (vanity) paintings by artists such as Jan Davidsz de Heem and Willem Claesz Heda, and likewise comment on worldly excess.
Besides her small-scale intricate creations of fruits that she produces in her ‘couture type atelier’ or TriBeCa studio that has been described as a sun-washed garret in Broadway, she also works on a larger monumental scale built from her vast collection of salvaged industrial machinery and thrift-everyday objects — such as fuchsia bowling balls, 35 of which she strung together to create a colossal necklace, titled Pearls.
Much of Ryan’s sculptures have made use of ancient Greek iconography to coax forward more contemporary tropes. Like her ceramic Wine Fountain (2012), which perched on a base of cinder blocks and leaked all over the floor; The Rise and Fall, a row of glazed ionic columns that dissected UCLA’s pristine New Wight Gallery in 2014; or More Is More Snake Ring (2014): that was part coiled chthonic serpent, part end-of-season Topshop accessory.
Currently, Ryan is represented by London-based gallery Josh Lilley, where she had a solo show in 2018. This year, Ryan exhibited her work in solo shows at The New Art Gallery in Walsall, U.K. and at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as part of Desert X in Coachella, CA. She also showed her work at Frieze London, where she was represented by Josh Lilley. The artist studied studio art and anthropology at Pitzer College, and received a Master’s of Fine Arts from U.C.L.A.
Watch out for her evocative works that create a sense of discomfort with their uncanny resemblance to rotting fruit: “Though the mold is the decay,” she says, “it’s the most alive part.”