We love it when our artists share insights from their process. It is refreshing and honest to get to peek inside the struggles and the successes. Below is a bit of insight from Ryan Kohler.
“Lately, I’ve been working with acrylic and paper on canvas. I’ve had great luck with just acrylic paintings over the years, and there’s nothing wrong with just stopping there. Still, I am always looking for ways to spice up my process and incorporate new techniques to push my paintings into new territory and to keep things interesting for myself as well. I think I get bored with myself a lot, haha. I’m never satisfied, so I keep moving and evolving, but always with the idea that I want to paint like myself in mind. I’m very cautious about changing my style in a way that makes them no longer recognizable to my visual brand. My visual language may change a bit, but I want to say the same things. I don’t want to look like other artists, so I’m very protective of that.
So why paper? I think it’s just where I ended up in my experimenting. Let me explain… It started this winter when I was just horribly bored with myself for the millionth time in my life. I started experimenting, gluing, taping things to canvas, repainting, taping again. Lots of little objects and stuff from the junk drawer were basically thrown at the canvas. Well, that was enough to reset my brain, but I had to dial it all back a bit for the sake of longevity. I had concerns about how long my paintings would last if I continued to paint like this. I liked the freedom of adding/removing physical pieces to the painting. And I knew that paint alone would never be enough for me ever again, but I had to find a reasonable, sustainable option to combine with it. Long story short, I found paper. Completely safe to use, glue-able, paintable, flexible, archival, and MILLIONS of colors.
I’ve always liked puzzles, and now my paintings are a bit like puzzles to me, except I get to make my own pieces, and they don’t have to fit exactly. In fact, things are much more interesting when I am imprecise, but in a fun and still descriptive way. Charmingly incorrect is what I’ve been shooting for with this entire body of work. When I am being too literal and too careful with my cutting and gluing, the paintings don’t breathe as well and feel uptight and labored.
When I think about it, it’s a lot like the palette knife oil paintings I’ve worked on in years past. The result is similar because there are distinct planes of color and various shapes layered over each other. The advantage of the paper, I find, is the workability and clarity of color and the ability to work in small areas, without the risk of the muddiness that can sometimes come with an oil painting that has been overworked. The workability is great too. If I’m fast enough, I can remove a recently glued piece or pieces that I don’t like. Sometimes a little blip of color is a great way to sort of activate a dead zone in a painting, as a little splash of excitement. And it’s really convenient to be able to try out a certain color shape before gluing it on. It’s hard to do that with paint. Once it’s there, it’s there! There’s lots of trial and error with the paper and fumbling around with clumsy bits of paper that seem never to fit anywhere. However, I still hang onto them all anyway, and it’s a beautiful feeling when the right shapes in the right color all come together in just the right way.
I’m really proud of these paintings, and I feel like they are the clearest vision I’ve had yet in my career and my most cohesive body, but it hasn’t been easy. I had to change my materials, my workflow, even my easel set up. I still like to paint a range of subject matter. I bring my beloved duck boots around town in Skowhegan and pose them in various places. I still love painting beautiful deer. I love the wonky shapes of boat hulls, architecture, and all the old things that can be found in rural Maine. We are all lucky to live in such a beautiful state.”