I take my leave from Anne Ryan, a slight figure in colourful trainers and a bouffant of grey hair, in the main downstairs space of the Hastings Contemporary art gallery, formerly known as The Jerwood.
The walls are filled with large oil works by Victor Willing, whose exhibition is showing till January 5th, before Anne takes up the space on the 18th. She has a tape measure in her hands. She’s got a lot of curating to do before her show is ready to be seen.
She’s been telling me about her latest body of sculptural paintings, akin to a body of work she’s shown recently at a gallery in Rome, where she spent three months preparing the material. “I was going around the place drawing everything that took my fancy. I’d run out of paper and had to use the card on the back of the pad. That was the basis for these pieces. They stand up, on the ground. Some of them have three sides, some five. People walk round them. They spend a bit of time with them. For any painter, that’s great.”
The pieces for the new show are a mix of collage and acrylic painting. The subject matter is things that Anne has noticed, travelling round her adopted home city of London (she originally hails from Limerick, in the west of Ireland). You can tell a lot about her from the subject matter. “Everyday stuff,” she explains. “Lots of gigs, musicians, clubs. People doing nothing, hanging out, drinking and smoking. A bold young woman with her belly on show. Sinking boats. Four people doing gymnastics on the back of a horse.”
She shows me some images on her computer. The figures are not always complete: some are missing heads and limbs. It’s a jumble of colourful body parts: very vital, implying a great deal of movement. These pieces will be artfully arranged around the floor space, at different levels, with ceramic works on the walls.
Interestingly, all the pieces have holes cut out of them. “The spaces are as important as the figures,” she tells me. “When you’re faced with holes, it gives you room to invent. The image breaks down in front of your eyes, and something else appears.”
Upstairs, she’s curating another show. “Eight other artists. Some of them I’ve taught [at Central Saint Martin’s, and Camberwell], others I just like. I’m always in people’s studios. It’s very playful: a contemporary take on surrealism.”
She’s as influenced, she tells me, by musicians as she is by other artists. “Have you ever seen Snapped Ankles?” she asks. “I’d never heard them before the gig I went to recently. I love not knowing what to expect. Then you can trust your own judgement, by looking and seeing. That’s important, for an artist.”
As I leave the gallery, I realise I still don’t know what to expect, fully, from Anne Ryan’s exhibition. This, I realise, is a good thing.
Earthly Delites, Hastings Contemporary Gallery, Jan 18th-March 22nd