According to his dealer, Michael Ryan is “resigned to the Apocalypse.” No surprise, since a number of his paintings envision the end-times. In one two-by-four-foot landscape, Destroyers, a ghostly harpy glowers at a tornado roiling the distant horizon. (Or perhaps it’s a mushroom cloud, although humanity and its self-destructive urges are almost puny in Ryan’s realm of angels and demons.) His sole formal art training consisted of marbleizing classes, which accounts for the amalgams of oil, dry pigment, and epoxy he builds up like layers of varnish on masonite, glass, and canvas grounds. Prophecy glows hotly through a thin wash of pure magenta that swirls like desert dust around what could be the Dead Sea, the setting for an ambiguous conclave of humans and a band of gibbering apparitions.
Closer to Edvard Munch’s landscapes of despair than to Howard Finster’s flatly painted biblical ravings, Ryan is the herald of a future where fundamentalist fatalism dovetails with environmental Armageddon. Let’s hope his North Pole isn’t prophetic: ice long since melted away, lowering sun turning the ocean to sulfur and tar, and only a crude cross enveloped in a disintegrating halo to mark the passing of man and his gods.