By Noma Faingold
Lately, artist Anthony Ryan has been mailing drawings in colored pencil to friends. He has drawn such common objects, such as leaves, twigs, bottlecaps, clothespins and pinecones in actual size. On his website, he wrote: “It’s been a way to meditate on this year of loss and fear and connect with the people in my life.”
He also said the recent drawings, which are atypical of his 30-year body of work, have forced him to “pay attention to detail. There’s something nourishing about it.”
Ryan, 51, experienced a lot of loss in 2020. He was going through a divorce after being married 21 years. He lost his teaching job at City College of San Francisco (although he still is teaching a couple of virtual art workshops through CCSF Extension). His 88-year-old mother died of COVID-19 in a nursing home in December.
The interdisciplinary artist (printmaking, sculpture, woodcuts/engraving) moved to the Richmond District last December after living in the Mission for 20 years. He has let go of his studio space for now and does his art from home.
“Working at a desk affected the scale of the art I’m able to make,” Ryan said. “Normally I would process all the screens myself. Now I have the screens made elsewhere.”
In spite of everything that happened in 2020, Ryan continues to be creative in various ways.
“I’m trying to be adaptable,” he said. “I notice I feel bad when I don’t do my art.”
Ryan, originally from Troy, New York, studied printmaking at Purchase College in Westchester County, about 35 miles northeast of New York City. He has been doing woodcuts and printmaking for 30 years. Among the artists who have influenced him are watercolorist Charles E. Burchfield, pioneering conceptualist Sol LeWitt, neo-expressionist painter Jennifer Bartlett and former teacher Antonio Frasconi, who is known for his woodcuts.
His diverse work draws from printed matter, such as test patterns cut from the margins of product packaging to nature, as with a series of wood grain prints. Ryan describes his art as esoteric yet simple. He uses somewhat archaic hand printing techniques. He did a series of prints based on photos he took of trail blaze marks on a backpacking trip at the Shasta Trinity National Forest three years ago.
“I am attracted to that,” he said. “The trail marks on a tree are like an intervention in nature, and nature tries to erase them. The wound-like quality is visually interesting to me.”
Activism has played a role in Ryan’s art of late, making what he calls “gesture drawings” street signs for the growing local “slow street” movement. Alec Hawley of the community group Richmond Family Transportation Network commissioned Ryan to create several signs, which were showcased at the Ride ‘n’ Roll Slow Street Art Hunt in the Richmond District on Feb. 13.
Ryan used a squeeze bottle to create the somewhat spontaneous drip paintings. One features a roller skater and another a bicyclist.
“It’s vibrant work,” Hawley said. “That art inspires people to be outside in a safe space. Look for the signs.”
In addition to working on his art about 20 hours a week, Ryan spends two days each week taking care of his girlfriend’s son and riding his bike around the City. He is looking forward to teaching a color theory workshop from April 6 to May 5, through CCSF Extension. He would also like to find a way to establish a non-profit print shop where he could teach high school students printmaking.
“I am an artist,” he said. “But I also see myself as a teacher, and there’s a void right now.”
To see Anthony Ryan’s work, go to http://www.anthony-ryan.com; Social media: Instagram and Twitter @printtemps.