The determined art of a young surrealist pop
Through Ron Gonzales
When I ask emerging contemporary Filipino artist Ryan Uy what his biggest fear is, he says, “Be irrelevant.” But looking at the trajectory of his career, it seems highly unlikely.
As of this writing, Ryan is preparing for his first solo show while working on several large commissioned pieces. He is already ready to participate in some group exhibitions in Manila and an international exhibition in Taiwan. Another online exhibit on its ryanuyart.com website is in the works for the last quarter of 2021. The self-produced online exhibit will be its fifth in just over two years, and none of this would happen if it did not. turn his back on his old commercial life.
“My life was planned: to work for the next five to ten years and to retire in my forties. But following this path also meant giving up my dreams. I knew that I would eventually regret staying in a profession that would always make me feel like I was missing something, even if that job paid well or gave me the opportunity to travel.
Ryan says he’s lucky enough to know early on what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “I’ve always wanted to be an artist,” he says. “And that’s something I’ve known since I was nine when I received my first set of watercolors.”
Ultimately, deciding to be a full-time artist was a bit daunting for Ryan. “I had my insecurities. I always do, ”he admits. “I don’t have an art degree. Everything I know about painting, I had to learn it on my own. And I always learn as I go, ”explains the self-taught artist.
Clearly, the lack of self-confidence never stopped him from pursuing his dream. After quitting his corporate job in 2018, Ryan quickly picked up his brushes and painted like an overdrive machine, eventually amassing enough coins to put on his first show online.
There is an ancient Japanese belief that your wish will be granted if you fold a thousand origami cranes. And the only thing I wanted was for my dad to survive cancer. Unfortunately, he got it right before I could even finish the thousandth piece.
Looking at his archives, it’s hard to imagine that the contemporary pop surrealist who now shows such fascinating work is the same artist who made all the chewing-gum-colored watercolors three years ago. The transition, he explains, happened when he wanted to be taken more seriously as an artist.
As he took the advice of industry insiders to heart, watercolor had to take a back seat. The change was immediate and apparent. With acrylic as a new medium, biomorphic forms have become straight lines. Superimposed geometric shapes, reconstructed like a puzzle. Dynamic abstract pieces in a more sophisticated color palette suddenly filled his canvases.
These caught the attention of many interior designers who quickly chose his pieces for their projects. But what Ryan really wanted was to show off with a gallery. For him, that meant being accepted into a very ruthless and competitive arts community. The validation came when Vinyl on Vinyl agreed to present his pieces in Art in the Park in 2018 and 2019. Altro Mondo also included it in his lineup for his show Rondo where he joined other renowned artists like Leeroy New, Jinggoy Buensuceso, and Demi Padua.
The newcomer from the artists’ quarter was starting to stand out. He received invitations to speak at workshops, judge art competitions and participate in group exhibitions. Commissioned work has also started to flow. But just when everything seemed to be going so well, life sent Ryan a major curve when his father – his number one supporter and the first person who encouraged him to pursue his dreams – was diagnosed with cancer.
Although he was devastated by this news, he used this painful chapter to channel his energy into creating pieces for his third online exhibition “Nothing Is the Same Again” in tribute to his father. It was a poignant and profound collection that revealed the suffering he was going through. Maybe it was the narrative that resonated with people or Ryan’s new aesthetic that won over art-loving audiences, but regardless, the pieces sold out within hours.
“Paradoxically, my father’s illness and his death gave me material for artistic expression,” says Ryan, explaining the history of the origami cranes he is known for. “There is an ancient Japanese belief that your wish will be granted if you fold a thousand origami cranes. And the only thing I wanted was for my dad to survive cancer. Unfortunately, he got it right before I could even finish the thousandth piece. I knew I would never have my wish, so instead I used the cranes as a metaphor for my grief, ”he says.
Faceless boys also feature prominently in his plays. “They represent me and many others who are going through the same struggles. This is my way of saying, I know what you are going through and I sympathize with you. I want to tell them that while it really hurts, things always get better over time.
This feeling of optimism is reflected in his first solo exhibition entitled “At The Brink of Dawn” at the Qube Gallery. “We’re pretty excited. It’s about time he had his own show. I think he’s more than ready for this, ”says his manager, JT Gonzales.
Equally enthusiastic is Ric Gindap, Creative Director of Design for Tomorrow, who has followed Ryan’s career from day one. “I probably have over 10 of his pieces, some of his earlier works, which are very different from what he does now. But even then, he was already showing so much promise. He always had his own aesthetic. He never tried to copy anyone. I’ve watched him mature as an artist, and I just know he’s going to be a big deal in the art world someday.
Comprised of 18 paintings, the exhibit tells the story of Ryan’s journey of self-discovery and healing as he navigates life a year after his father’s death. “Before, my first instinct was to fill every space in my canvases with origami cranes because I wanted to remember the pain of losing my father, not knowing that painting them over and over would help me heal.”
Unlike his previous works, most of his new pieces show a lot of restraint. The colors are more muted, almost monochromatic, with an element of poetry hidden under the layers of paint.
Spaces on the canvas are also left to breathe, allowing your eyes to focus on the main subject – the Faceless Boys, although in this collection a female character is introduced.
It is also the first time that Ryan gives you an idea of the environment of the characters. Here, they wander and explore the city. A lone crane follows the boys wherever they go, which to Ryan is a reminder of his father’s presence, telling him not to be afraid.
The tone and message of his works may have changed, but the rigor, discipline and grueling attention to detail remain. His pieces have a mechanical precision that, from afar, makes them appear numerically, a remark he often says he has. But take a closer look and you’ll see the clean lines, the graceful gradation of tones, and you’ll begin to marvel at the many hours the artist must have spent creating each piece. You can tell there is a strong Japanese influence in his art, which hints at his love for anime.
JT Gonzales explains his intention to bring Ryan’s art to the world, starting with his first international exhibition in Taiwan: “Ryan’s aesthetic is very international. Manila shoppers love dark, gloomy, and conceptual art, and male figurative works don’t mesh well with the local art crowd. Thus, his works will be more appreciated by an audience who has a different aesthetic. “
Ryan has every reason to be excited about his first solo show, let alone his first time at an international show, but he says he prefers to focus on creating more pieces that he hopes will inspire many. people to realize that their struggles will always make them better and stronger. That alone, he said, would make his art more meaningful. This is, I think, what makes him more relevant as a person and as an artist.
At the Edge of Dawn runs from August 19 to September 7. 2 at qubegallery.ph. The physical exhibition is scheduled to open provisionally on August 21 at the Qube Gallery, Cross Roads, Gov. Mr. Cuenco Avenue, Cebu City, pending the lifting of quarantine restrictions. Call +63 918 807 4175 or email the gallery at [email protected] to request a private tour of the gallery.
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