Ryan Orme’s work explores the tension between abstraction and representation, often inspired by his personal experiences. His art also examines feelings of isolation and the concept of belonging, particularly in urban settings.
Kelly Foster – Can you tell me more about the artwork you applied with?
Ryan Orme – Those works often involve multiple hues and a sculptural element. They sit at the intersection of abstraction and representation, similar to how certain paintings hover between being mere brush marks and forming an image. The steel panels, for instance, often hint at a horizon or a reflection.
KF – So, are you saying that the way the light interacts with the material adds to this?
RO – Yes, partly. I’m also interested in how an image can be pared down to its most basic elements and still oscillate between being an abstract form and a recognizable landscape. When we lived on a boat, the view often consisted of a horizon line with water below and trees above—almost like a playing card. That mirroring is something I’ve tried to capture. It’s a balance between abstraction and representation, combining painterly concerns with a sculptural understanding of materials.
KF – In relation to some of your other works, particularly the paintings, I’ve noticed that you often use lines that remind me of bars or fences. It seems like these are sculptural elements. Do these elements resonate with the idea of structures and architecture?
RO – Yes, they do, but not in the way one might think about grand designs or fancy buildings. It’s more about the feeling you get from looking through something. Cities often evoke a sense of frustration due to spaces being private and inaccessible. It’s about the sense of being on the outside, looking in. I think I often adopt the position of the observer, sitting on the periphery to understand how things function. These lines help me convey an internal feeling of belonging as much as anything else.
KF – How do you capture these moments? Do you wander around specific places and then try to depict that through a photo, or is it all based on memory?
RO – I’m interested in how geography or a place aligns with my experiences, and I think this is common for many people. Smell and music, for example, often come with memories. Different landscapes become part of different phases of my life. While I was studying, I spent four years on a boat. The Lea River became a landscape I associated with a sense of freedom and possibility but also loss, as my grandparents had passed away the year before. Representing this run-down but beautiful landscape reflected the contradiction I felt between joy and loss at the time.
KF – I agree that we often project emotions onto our surroundings. Parks, for instance, have become more significant, especially during and after the pandemic. They were a refuge, a place of freedom, yet also felt constructed and somewhat artificial. The pandemic has made me appreciate parks more as a part of my life.
RO – Yes, exactly. I’m still figuring it out. There was a time when everything was empty, and it looked eerie. I had been painting playing fields that weren’t empty. This was a project I started in Hong Kong because I was interested in the subject. Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly everything was empty. That emptiness added an eerie aspect to my existing paintings, and I continued in that direction. It has evolved since then.
KF – That’s interesting, especially when thinking about your sculptural pieces that are placed in park-like settings or in nature. Sculpture parks offer a unique way to experience art.
RO – Absolutely. If I had enough funding, that’s the direction I would like to take my work in. The feeling of exploration and discovering new things is as important to me as the artwork itself. Sometimes I find that a walk in the park is just as fulfilling as creating art.
KF – I get that. Sometimes, parks feel like a way to be around life and people, even when you’re alone. Your art seems to evoke a similar feeling, like you’re a part of something even if you’re not fully engaged.
RO – I believe it’s a sense of longing. As teenagers, my friends and I used to sketch out plans for a dream house filled with extravagant features like pools and waterslides. We naively thought we’d spend our lives together in this idyllic place. Now, I find I have increasingly less time to spend with my friends. The process of growing up is brutal. It astonishes me that more people aren’t upset about how disconnected we’ve become from the things that truly nourish us.
KF – I’ve noticed that some of your works, particularly the cityscapes like the one of Hong Kong, depict feelings of isolation and disconnect. Is that intentional?
RO – I frequently find myself at odds with mainstream culture, politics, and our economic system, feeling as if I’m sacrificing my life for something less than meaningful. In unfamiliar places like Hong Kong, this sense of alienation intensifies, primarily because I don’t know anyone there. Oddly enough, that feeling can also be strangely enjoyable. Cities possess a unique dichotomy, being both bustling and isolating simultaneously. My paintings often act as mirrors, reflecting my mental and emotional states at those moments.
KF – Your technique, with its loose brushstrokes and simplified forms, seems to give your paintings a sense of memory or subjectivity rather than a literal depiction.
RO – That’s an interesting observation. I believe our markings, much like our body language, can convey a range of emotions. Whether it’s an angry, scratchy line or a calm, flowing one, these subtleties can be intuitively understood.
KF – Absolutely. I remember reading an interview you did with Brook Bennington where you talked about how different materials evoke different feelings or sensations, like coldness, for instance. It made me think about how we can intuitively sense the different energies or intentions an artist imbues in a piece just by looking at it.
RO – Studying sculpture was truly enlightening for me in that regard. It helped me understand how different materials can convey specific emotions. For example, why do materials like latex and stainless steel evoke a “medical” feeling? We’re constantly cataloguing these associations in our minds. When we encounter artworks featuring such materials, we may not consciously recognize it, but we’re influenced by those pre-established emotions.
KF – Some of your works are quite colourful, while others employ a more monotone palette. This subtle use of colour seems to add a sense of memory to your works, as if they’re almost removed from reality.
RO – I don’t overthink my use of colour; I simply go with what feels right in the moment. For instance, I work with aluminium panels that are prepared by a car painter. He applies the base colour I’ve chosen to a batch of panels. When I run out of panels, it’s usually because I’ve grown tired of that specific colour. My choice of colour is closely linked to my emotions and experiences at any given time.
KF – How did you come up with this specific technique of working with pre-painted aluminium panels?
RO – I like the feeling of oil paint gliding on a smooth surface; it’s satisfying. The paint moves a bit, dispersing in a way that I can’t completely control, which I like. I’ve found that it’s easier to remove unwanted paint from these aluminium panels. If I don’t like a piece after 24 hours, I can easily wipe it off with a solvent and start over. The smooth, factory-like finish of a sprayed metal panel also appeals to me. The technique originally had a practical purpose—it was easy to transport the flat panels—but I’ve grown fond of the unique surface quality.
KF – It seems to circle back to this idea of ephemerality or chance. You just do it in one go, and you don’t have full control. So, there’s this playfulness in the process.
RO – Absolutely. I often make just two marks too many, and it ruins the piece. That can be frustrating when you’ve invested a lot of time. There’s a practical side to my approach, but it’s also about feeling free to be daring, since the stakes aren’t too high.