The Artist As Thinker
Ryan Woolgar uses images and murky letters and numbers to probe the ineffable.
As I entered the Frank Juarez Gallery, I felt like I had stepped into another realm; the annoyance of honking cars and political ads melted away as I felt the calm of this artist-made sacred space infuse me. Ryan Woolgar’s work is based on thought. His thoughts and the interactions that he has in his life and with visitors to the studio/gallery during his month long residency will culminate in a show and reception on Saturday, December 1.
The Frank Juarez Gallery is a windowless rectangle located inside the Material Studios + Gallery on the top floor of the Marshall Building. This interior space gives one the sense of being inside the artist’s head. The finished and in-progress paintings, tools and everything in the gallery were black, white, gray and wood colored; even the label on the box of nails seemed to be in color harmony with the entirety of the space. Standing at the edge of a beige mat laid out on the floor with materials and paintings in different stages, I was peering into a pond of potential and felt the energy of work forming.
In these works of diverse materials, from ink to oil paint, canvas to paper, a layered net of lines interwoven with occasional distinguishable numbers or letters creates a landscape of marks which is atmospheric and mysterious. Some marks are scratched into the surface, others float and dissolve like clouds. So there are figures of a sort, but the end result of his process are dark and abstract works. Woolgar transcribes what might be journal entries, hidden and obscured by subsequent thoughts and layers of words, like a modern day monk, wearing a backwards baseball hat rather than a disheveled hood. As an assistant in the conservation department at The Milwaukee Art Museum, Woolgar works to conserve the ancient creations of others. Here, he is conserving the work of his own mind and making powerful objects as a result. Lines and marks dance on a thickly built surface which is scraped and rubbed like an ancient relic.
As I was leaving the gallery, I noticed behind the door, a neatly hanging brush, squeegee, apron and a legible poem typed on semi-transparent vellum overlaid on an abstract drawing done in white pencil on black paper. I started reading it and was struck by the line, “to think he thought is all one does and in thinking this thought he thought altogether affirmed this current thoughtful way of thinking thoughtlessly about the many whom must have thought or think the same.” Woolgar walked over and said, “that poem is where this investigation began, I have a revision that I can send you.”
Of course you do.
Works by Ryan Woolgar
Ryan Woolgar will be working and creating more works at Frank Juarez Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo St. #600, in the Third Ward, every Saturday from 11-4, until the show closes on December 8.