Santa Monica | May 16, 2023

Meet: Artist Jonathan Ryan

Meet Jonathan Ryan, an LA artist whose work we’re proud to be spotlighting this season inside Santa Monica Proper. Born in Buffalo, NY, Jonathan now lives and works in LA’s Highland Park neighborhood, where he creates vibrantly fantastical pictorial puzzle compositions, each evoking unknown worlds and borrowing inspiration from ancient ruins, landscapes, and video games. Discover more about Jonathan’s work, how he gets in the creative zone, and how thinking outside the box expands his artistic practice. 


The first piece of art that Proper Hotel Santa Monica’s guests see is yours. How did you come up with it?

J.R.: Kelly Wearstler and her team discovered my work at The Land Gallery in Los Angeles, the space created by Gerard O’Brien who owns Reform Gallery on Melrose Avenue. This particular painting was made at a key period in my work and was part of my very first solo show — it marked the birth of a new process in my work, with a top-down view of an imaginary space that plays with perspective and combines oil paint, sand, and color.


Your painting “White and Peach” spans an impressive 105 x 116 — how big is your studio space?!

J.R.: When I created the piece, I had just moved to Los Angeles and was living in a two-bedroom Chinatown duplex, one of which was dedicated to my studio. Due to the size of the commission, I ended up calling a friend who let me rent his studio for six weeks. [The timing was perfect since] I had been waiting for a long time to be able to work on larger formats.


Kelly Wearstler liked it so much that she bought a second painting from you…

J.R.: My second painting at Proper is in Kelly’s boardroom, and is created with the same framework as the first: a three box form with a diagonal of paint, sand, and rocks. After this, Kelly’s team also bought another small painting of mine, “Black Disc,” which can be found in a library nook on the first floor at Santa Monica Proper. 


In what atmosphere do you paint?

J.R.: I now work in my studio and workshop in Highland Park which is next door to my house. After years of sharing my passion and craft as an art-framer, I now only paint. After organizing the set up, I usually turn on the music or, depending on my mood, listen to a podcast or audiobook. Sometimes silence and birdsong from my garden are enough for me.


Does it take time to find your style?

J.R.: For many years, I was an observational painter. I would work with a drawing tablet and explore my environment, nature, or urban areas. I would drive around, sit down, bring my drawings back to the studio, photograph them, and then compose my painting. But I soon got bored of this method. After a summer of bad paintings, I started opening up. I was no longer content to look at my immediate surroundings and started looking at landscapes of all sorts in old paintings or early video games, and I thought about how to construct the pictorial space. At the same time, I started looking for other materials to incorporate into my paintings. I ended up pouring sand from my garden on oil and onto a canvas.


And the magic happened!

J.R.: The sand would start to stick, then it would dry and soak into the oil paint. You could see the color of paint underneath where some parts were darker or transparent. It ended up a pictorial, optical, and illusional effect, and offered new perspectives. The play of light and shadow and my interest in landscapes, hills, mountains, and desert, rocky forms all came together.


Did Los Angeles and California inspire your work?

J.R.: I’ve always been interested in the power of landscapes. I grew up on the East Coast in Buffalo and then moved to rural Louisiana. Later, I studied landforms as a student in Philadelphia. The light of California, the Joshua Tree desert, the ocean, the sunset, the fog…all of it is inspiring. 


Your paintings seem to come from another planet, as in your latest Bad Lands exhibition. Is that the idea?

J.R.: Some people will see my paintings as Mad Max-like landscapes, others as post-apocalyptic spaces…it could be earth, sci-fi, or utopian, but also could be a world in two worlds. I like the questions that arise.


Where can we see more of your work?

J.R.: I just finished a solo show in New York at the Hesse Flatow Gallery, and earlier this year I participated in two group shows in Amsterdam and Italy. Coming up, I have an exhibition later this year in LA at The Landing Gallery. And after that…I hope to find time to cool off.



Sign Up Close Button

Become a Partner