Thursday, June 4, 2020

Ryan Baptiste - The Light Beyond The Blight - Redbud Gallery - Echoes of New Orleans

"...she told me she considered Ryan’s Baptiste’s paintings to be exceptional..."

Ryan Baptiste - The Light Beyond The Blight - Redbud Gallery - Echoes of New Orleans

Last week Lynet McDonald came for a visit, and while I was serving her ice tea and chocolate chip cookies, she told me she considered Ryan’s Baptiste’s paintings to be exceptional. Lynet's comment inspired me to take a closer look.

Ryan Baptiste’s exhibition “The Light Beyond The Blight” will be at Redbud Gallery in Houston from June 6 to August 27, 2020, with the opening reception on Saturday, June 6, 6-9 pm.

I contacted Ryan to ask a few questions.

Virginia Billeaud Anderson: First and foremost, tell me about the art’s New Orleans associations, which draw me in because I'm from Louisiana and spent a great deal of time misbehaving in New Orleans. Are the depictions of the male figure wearing a New Orleans Saints tee shirt and the Mardi Gras Indian in feathered costume biographical, do you have family in New Orleans?

Ryan Baptiste: I was born in New Orleans and lived there until around age four when my parents moved us to Houston. Nevertheless, my ties to the city have always remained strong as I still have family there, and my father was chief of the Golden Star Hunters Mardi Gras Indians. I am a huge Saints fan. I bleed black and gold. Growing up I spent my time in New Orleans with family during Mardi Gras, summers, and holidays.

VBA: It was dumb of me to ask. Architectural details such as the antique leaf-pattern cast-iron porch railing, and the antique wooden plantation shutters reveal intimate knowledge of particular New Orleans neighborhoods. The white hat you painted on an older male figure is like some I saw on North Rampart in the 1970s. Your artist statement describes these images as “metaphorically charged.” Make a comment about metaphor in the painting “Southern Hospitality,” which is extraordinary.

RB: In the neighborhoods where urban blight is present, the people that live there are often overlooked and metaphorically/spiritually represent the “light.”

VBA: I sense double meaning in “Southern Hospitality.” On the one hand, you represented a typical "Nawlins" narrative, figures on the porch of a dilapidated nineteenth or early century home, similar to what one sees if one drives through Gentilly or other neighborhoods, although your handling of poses and expressions elevates out of the mundane. On the other hand, the overwhelming light in the painting's background, and in other parts of the composition, makes me wonder if you are speaking about spiritual nature.

RB: You are spot on. I wish to portray that light within the community as a whole. I hope to preserve the history of the architecture and the people that live in areas were blight exists and yes, another level of meaning is their spiritual essence.

VBA: Ryan, this is skillful handling of the figure, with delicate balance between distortion and definition. Readers will be interested in knowing which artists influence you in composing the human figure, either from art history or contemporary eras. By the way, I noticed your MFA is from Houston Baptist University. I can detect a tiny bit of Michael Collins’ influence in the abstract parts of your figuration.

RB: I am influenced by the historical paintings of German Painter Max Liebermann, am drawn to the narrative shown in Kerry James Marshall’s paintings, and I look to Jordan Casteel in the rendering of figures. As far as Michael Collins, he is my mentor and I am forever his student.

Ryan Baptiste, “Southern Hospitality,” 2018, Oil on canvas, 38 x 46
Ryan Baptiste, “Hair Did,” 2019, Oil on panel, 6 x 6
Ryan Baptiste, “Room for the Skylight,” 2015 Oil on canvas, 36 x 36

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