Artist Ryan Crowley “Paints With Plaster” To Construct Multidimensional Sculptures

by | Mar 21, 2014 | ART

Local artist Ryan Crowley works with many different materials and aims to deconstruct the classic idea of sculpture.


Local artist Ryan Crowley works with many different materials and aims to deconstruct the classic idea of sculpture.

His efforts were recently recognized as he has just been accepted to the VMFA Fellowship grant. Crowley says its something he has applied to every year since 2010 and last year was the first year he was able to apply as a professional.

Crowley is originally from Boston, Mass., where he got his undergraduate degree at the Massachusetts College of Arts. Now Crowley lives in Virginia when he moved to Richmond to go through VCU’s graduate program for sculpture. After getting his graduate degree Crowley now teaches and runs studios at VCU as an adjunct faculty member.

Crowley’s first experience as an artist in Richmond was a show at Reference Gallery just before starting his program at VCU. Crowley explained Reference Gallery as an art space that was opened by former VCU undergrads. The founders lived on the second floor and used the first floor as a gallery space. Their goal was to reach out to people outside of Richmond and host art exhibitions. Crowley said, “They were very ambitious and attracted a lot of attention.”

A friend of Crowley’s got him connected with the folks at Reference and Crowley was able to have his show line-up with his application for grad school. Crowley said, “A lot of the people that were looking at my work to let me into grad school were able to see it in person, which is a really rare opportunity.”

Crowley spoke about the changes in the art scene from Boston to Richmond. He explained how Boston’s is much broader and more commercial. When he came to Richmond he was pleased to find that the art community was much more supportive of younger artists and different styles. “It was a breath of fresh air because it was such a welcoming place for sculpture,” he said.

Although Crowley is labeled as a sculptor, he borrows ideas from other mediums and has his own unique view on what sculpture should be. Crowley points out that many famous sculptures can be thought of as a static image. He says there’s often a “nice-side” of sculptures that people think of. However, Crowley wants to deconstruct the image of sculpture. He aims to make sculptures that invite the viewer to explore different angles.

“When I find that a sculpture has a static image quality, where you can sit in one spot a gaze at it like a photograph, that’s when I start to go back into it and make it so that you cant really stop in one spot.” Says Crowley. He wants to make his sculptures seem engaging. The audience is encouraged to move around the sculpture.

He says he wants viewers to be in orbit of the object.

When it comes to material, plaster is Crowley’s bread and butter. Although he’s used everything from silicon to peanut butter and jelly in his art, he calls plaster the “backbone” to his work.

“Plaster for me is like painting with matter; you can build with it, you can cast with it, you can throw it around, you can take impressions with it, its versatile.” Crowley came to sculpture through painting and found that plaster allowed him the freedom to create what he wanted.

Like his materials, Crowley doesn’t set limits and likes the idea of change. He says his process starts from a very general place and he works towards something much more specific. By this method his sculptures could be chopped and screwed several times before his finished product. He talks about how he is most absorbed in his work when its hard to define or “straddles genres” of art.

But with any work, there come challenges. So I asked Crowley about some of the challenges he faces with his work and he talked about them in two ways, physically and mentally. “There are challenges that are structural and physical, oftentimes they are heavy, big, fragile sculptures, which is a very bad combination of circumstances to have all in the same thing,” he said.

But he continues to talk about his mental process when tackling the issue of what to make next. Crowley relates making art to writers block and how people can get stuck trying to figure out what they are trying to make. He believes the “the work comes from the work.” And that “It’s hard to make a meaningless object.”

Crowley says that he will often find remnants of previous work that lead him down a new path. He says he never gets stuck wondering what to make, he just needs to go digging through his pile of materials in the studio.

Crowley seems to be keeping busy with running classes at VCU and just finished a show last month at Sediment Gallery. Keep an eye out for more work from Ryan Crowley in the future.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner




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