‘The girls are more perfect than they will ever be, they thankfully have no idea what that means and won’t until it’s gone’ – Gretchen Ryan
Colorado-born Gretchen Ryan creates portraits of young girls, often beauty pageant contestants. Bring to light – the disturbing notions of objectification, precocious sexuality and innocence. Therefore question how Western parents raise their daughters in a disturbingly sexualized youth culture, and how society treats female sexuality and youth.
Ryan often paints the same girls throughout their childhoods, trying to know them and understand their personal life as they gain knowledge of their beauty and power. Although Ryan’s work focuses on the fetishized world of child beauty pageants, she approaches her canvas with a deep respect for her models and the use of traditional portraiture techniques.
Gretchen’s portraits capture expressions of fear and dismay that traditional pageant imagery glosses over. Depictions of her subject’s vulnerability allude to the darker side of youthful beauty. Her much beloved princesses are held up on pedestals but are also in danger ‐ societal obsessions are never innocent or innocuous. She focuses on ‘the way we are when we’re new’, conveying a complex mixture of the oblivious purity of youth and the impending difficulties connected to the ‘peril fraught transition’ to adulthood.
Ryan originally trained as an illustrator and her artistic beginnings are hugely apparent. The whimsy and fantasy that one might find in children’s fairy tale illustrations here take on a more mature, critical tone.
She cites Orphan Girl at the Cemetery by Delacroix as a strong influence on her treatment of her sitters’ moods and personalities. Once infused with Ryan’s unique, contemporary sensibility, the work has a dynamic tension that has led some viewers to compare her work to that of John Currin.
Gretchen Ryan with a painting of 2 girls playing with toy horses against a snowy backdrop.
The horses and children both symbolize being victimized and dependence.
Ryan also try to highlight that children tend to have more compassion than adults.
And the back view painting of the 2 girls let the viewers share the same view as them.
Easter egg: While most of the paintings and photographs are of young girls. There is a single painting of Daphne Guinness – the daughter of brewery heir Jonathan Guinness, granddaughter to Diana Mitford. The only painting by Ryan on showcase here which is of a grown woman, but you would have to hunt for it within the gallery compound.
Regardless of what the future has in store for these girls, immortalized by Ryan’s brush, they remain a tribute to the obstinacy and incorruptibility of youth. Her works have been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe.
The showcase features new paintings, charcoal drawings and photographs, many created exclusively for the Singapore exhibition.
Provocative Los Angeles‐based artist Gretchen Ryan’s first Singapore exhibition is not to be missed.
Galerie Steph – [email protected]
39 Keppel Road. Tanjong Pagar Distripark, #01‐05. Singapore 089065
Exhibition on till 28 April 2012
Tues – Sat 12 – 7 pm