Return to the Island is greatly influenced by the author Richard Flanagan, whose audiobooks Paul Ryan listened to as he painted. In particular, the novels Wanting and Gould’s Book of Fish, both of which illuminate the pervasive cruelty of so-called civilised society. This influence tied itself to something new in the artist’s practice. Known for his tongue-in-cheek use of appropriation and anachronism, this latest body of work borrows images from Goya drawings. Such figures and elements spoke directly to the artist of the hopelessness of their situation within an unrelenting landscape of viciousness.
Despite its positioning, the paintings included in Return to the Island are not turbulent or exclusively darkened by its subject matter. The works have a serenity, provided by the night sky, or the ghostly glow of an indistinguishable figure. Ryan’s paintings do not paint the trauma of experience, but hold a mirror up to it. Like a still body of water, these paintings offer a reflective surface of contemplation, a way to work through it all. For Ryan, there is some hope in the mix.
Paul Ryan’s thick, expressive style has seen him elected a finalist in the Archibald prize fourteen times, and also selected as a finalist in the Wynne Prize four times and seven times in the Sulman. Most recently, he was a finalist in the 2019 Archibald and Sulman prizes. Ryan won the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize in 2012, and the Paddington Art Prize in 2007 and 2010. Ryan was a finalist in the 2018 Mosman Prize and the 2018 Doug Moran Prize Ryan’s work is held in many significant collections including The Geelong Gallery; Artbank; Lismore Regional Gallery; Woolongong Regional Art Gallery; Mosman Art Gallery; Woolongong University Collection; The Manly Art Gallery and many private and corporate collections nationally and internationally.