As I passed by the enormous side window of Richmond’s ADA Gallery, three miniscule paintings, no more than 6 by 8 inches, managed to quicken my pace to the entrance. Cartoonish, yet painterly, with bold color and playful style, these three were just a foretaste of what was waiting inside.
Ryan Browning’s solo show, Cave Deco, is a modest offering of paintings ranging from small to massive, along with handmade and 3D printed sculptural works. Uniting all of these works are an apparent fascination with video games, concept art and story, as well as a deep understanding of traditional media which sets the work apart. The work uses a consistent vocabulary that recalls Saturday morning cartoons, the likes of which delight as much as they present fodder for the playful generation of new works. Such vocabulary coupled with Browning’s painterly finesse rewards viewers’ contemplation, easily sending one’s mind probing in different directions within Browning’s projected world, making one wonder what or who might be beyond the picture plane.
The works in Cave Deco bring to mind a heavy interplay between the concepts of flatness and dimensionality. 2D animated cartoons and the horizontal scroll of platforming games—elements which Browning references heavily in his painted works—are both flat. This flatness contextualizes our interaction with such content, given that it’s modally separated from our normal physical existence. We human beings are dimensional and live a placed existence within a dimensional world, therefore such flatness requires an imagining-into the work in order to engage with it on its own terms of interaction. Yet Browning renders these elements in a manner that makes them seem believably a part of our corporeal world— the real world.
For example, the largest painting within the show includes a large “drawing” of a dog’s face in front of a constructed space. The lines of the drawing themselves are rendered dimensionally, such that the lines have a distinct noodle-ness rather than flatness. Other characters or elements referenced across the body of work, be they a hand or a leaf, are also rendered such that they read as touchable, space-occupying forms rather than as flat shapes. The cartoony, imagined content of the paintings still demands imagining-into, but the dimensional rendering of such normally flat elements takes such imagining to another level as it is presented congruently with our tacit reality.
The sculptural works within the show, which incorporate matte plastic and lightly-glossed ceramic as the chief materials, underscore this feeling. These works breathe the same spirit as the characters and objects within Browning’s painted world and their presentation within the same gallery space is particularly fascinating, because now the imagined elements from the paintings are presented in three dimensions—no longer solely in an illusive, painted space. Being corporeally present, these objects have literal mass, interact with and refract actual light, and project into our space, rather than merely giving the implication or illusion of such. They serve as a reminder of corporeal reality as an anchor point of that which is shown within the painted works! The same laws of depth, gravity, and light at work upon the sculptural works are masterfully implied within these paintings. Although digital spaces may project a seeming flatness and we humans may imagine highly fictitious worlds, all that we make is grounded firmly in the rich givenness of corporeal reality!
Art that drinks deeply from that givenness as the work in Cave Deco does will be aesthetically rich. Add all that richness to the playfulness embodied in Ryan Browning’s work and you’re in for a real treat.
ADA Gallery is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 to 4pm or for appointments.