This Ain’t Kansas Dorothy

30 May – July 9 2015

In this day of digital imagery it has become harder to make a work that is respected as being more than just that. It is more about having something worthwhile to tell about the subject. So said André de Borde, Director of Gallery Ecosse, in reference to an earlier group of works by David Ryrie, Three Steps North of South, but the comment is equally relevant to Ryrie’s latest offerings in This Ain’t Kansas Dorothy.

David Ryrie is one of those photographic artists whose works bear close scrutiny and having done so, command that elusive respect. There is an essential honesty in his endeavour and he places a high value on making art from digital photography, not through technical trickery, but by rigorously interrogating the subject that is in the lens.
Ryrie’s photographs are closely related to story, even history, as in his earlier series inspired by the Exeter rail crash. His art is not simply photographic. His concern with image-making has less to do with accurately documenting what a place or object looks like; the foundation of his art is in the significance and potency of the place and of the story that lies there, patent or hidden. What lies beneath and within contributes to the beauty that is redolent in Ryrie’s images – that beauty is not derived simply from the subject’s natural attributes and features.

A landscape or a lowering sky may arouse in us, as passers by, a fleeting memory or emotion that is always personal. It falls to the artist however, whether on a canvas or through the lens, to provide a more considered view of what we take for granted. Ryrie’s particular obsession is to grasp and re-create what it is that exists beyond the image alone – as he put it, to derive a clandestine beauty when the facade indicates only a small fraction of what is on offer. In this regard Ryrie is one of many artists who seek to understand the deeper aspects of their subjects.

And there is a great deal more to David Ryrie’s work than image-making and story-telling. In This Ain’t Kansas Dorothy the personal uncertainty that he writes about so candidly in his introduction seems to contradict the confidence with which he makes his art. The particular direction of this exhibition references the storms which he likens to his own conflicting emotions, and his own perception of the strengths and weaknesses that inhabit us all, but which perhaps most of us prefer not to interrogate with the same analysis and perception as he has applied to his own feelings. Here, his own uncertainties are laid bare.

These works have a surreal quality. They are the stuff of dreams, imaginings and deep concerns. The storms that he refers to are shown in their majesty and power, but the works reference also the diminutive presence of mankind within the elements, whether by the device of a power line across a threatening sky, or the fragmented light of a car passing through the ghostly landscape. There is an image of the artist himself, sleep denied, the twin storms outside the room and within his soul, both unseen but imagined by the viewer. There is strong reference here also to the insignificance of us as mortals, characterised by the image of two fisherman afloat on the ocean, set opposite the photograph of his older son – as Ryrie puts it, my intention is simply to let us not forget our significance in relation to the greater world and in the smaller ones which we create.

Man’s threatening impact on the landscape is not denied here either – it is instead emphasised as being detrimental, visually and in fact, in a world where, ultimately, the elements – not mankind – hold court. These images at once display the raw beauty of the Australian landscape among the elements, while pointing to man’s skill in ruining it – suburban sprawl and introduced vermin, both blights on Nature. Then tacky, garish objects superimposed – the Australian landscape increasingly threatened. Nature made vile by man. Such are the contradictions of beauty and ugliness that are surrogates for Ryrie’s own internal contradictions and deep concerns. In this exhibition he has exposed both to examination, highlighting the scale between the abhorrent and the magical, and he has done so skillfully.

Julian Beaumont, May 2015