Motivated by a sense of the carnivalesque, Ryan Mosley’s canvases offer up a surreal world of invented characters and rituals that are simultaneously archaic and futuristic. Mosley develops his theatrical subjects through a spontaneous approach to painting. “They appear on the canvas,” Mosley explains, “worked, reworked, painted over, feeding on mistakes. They exude the feeling that the characters are having a conversation, or are on stage during a performance. The process is quite organic: sometimes it starts with an idea for narrative, then sometimes, according to the process of the painting, the narrative arrives.” In Emperor Butterfly this layering of drawing with a paint brush and painterly gestures resolves as a figure with multiple limbs. “It’s like a pseudo religious character or a mythic anthropomorphic figure,” Mosley describes, “like a butterfly, or chrysalis transforming. The butterfly motif is also like an authoritative stamp.”
Empress Butterfly was conceived as a partner painting to Emperor Butterfly, though Mosley doesn’t think of his figures as clearly gendered: “When painting things such as masquerade or carnival, it’s hard to get away from ideas of transvesticism. I paint women with the same measurements as the men. I can’t justify painting beautiful ladies when the men are so buffoon-like, so I treat them all as equals. Empress Butterfly is an attempt to paint movement; I ended up with this character. All the weight is on one knuckle as if the foetal figure is a chrysalis in transformation. I’m interested in the camouflage pattern, like the eye motif on peacocks that are used for protection. In these two paintings the eyes are like a porthole into something else; stage paint or something like camouflage – a painting of a painting in a painting.”
When Mosley was studying art he worked as a security guard at The National Gallery; his days spent surrounded by the works of old masters became a key inspiration for his practice. “I like the fact that passages in art history can sometimes fool you. Characters become almost timeless, like looking at painting from the 13th century which could have been painted yesterday,” Mosley says. “George and The Dragon is based on a Bermejo painting. I guess the artist didn’t know what he was dealing with first hand, in the way of visualising part of the subject? So he alludes to an idea of what might look like a rendition of evil, a dragon, demon, Lucifer. Our idea of a modern dragon might be like that on the Welsh flag, but it could be something else. My George And The Dragon could be more akin to a pub sign of the same name. I like these different historical readings, and use my own narratives in paintings. The diamond formation in the costumes used to be called the ‘devil’s cloth’; if you were slightly kooky or a bit crazy you’d wear this. We now associate this with a harlequin or court jester; it’s like a uniform for the mentally ill.”
“They’re like giant watercolours,” Mosley says of his works. “I build them up through translucent thin washes; painting one colour over the top of another might suggest something - for example cadmium orange over yellow suggests gold. They’re quite gestural, they look like batik or dyed canvas. The surfaces are ‘slippery’, they have an oily seductive quality – the brush just glides over it. Sirens comes from Greek myth, and I was interested in 19th-century paintings of far-flung Greek narratives that were done in a very British way. The characters look quite mechanical like Automatons but perhaps are also able to hold an interesting conversation, so they can suggest something else, especially the costumes: a rahrah skirt, Danish milkmaid’s outfit, devil’s cloth. It’s both frightening and enchanting.”
Mosley describes Limb Dance as: “like medieval wall painting, the parameter around it is like Rousseau-esque botanical bunting. It’s celebratory and slightly awkward. The Pinocchio character came around the time of the Butterfly series, it’s something evolving: it started off as a figure I painted out, all that was left was a knee on top of a shin which became a head, it was like a spare part of a painting.” In this scene, both of the characters are holding limbs, which could read as processional sceptres, clubs or effigies. Mosley explains the appended body parts: “They’re like helpers or look outs, not offspring, but a recurring genetic trait. They feel like surrogate children. I was thinking about Ruben’s Massacre Of The Innocents – how do you paint the brutality of anatomy just being thrown about?”
“Tag Team is more to do with modernity,” says Mosley, “possibly more accessible in iconography. There’s a bearded vanitas on top of a cowboy boot (shades of Clint Eastwood), an afro motif (20th-century disco), a ballerina outfit, and oriental moustache; a cobra with a portrait-cum-camouflage on the back of his head and a guy jumping out of a gramophone: all the makings of a provincial play. There used to be a milkman in the north of England who told me various stories about his clients, some were full-time miners and Wrestlers. He told a fantastic story, about the diets of the wrestling giants, like Big Daddy and King Kong Kirk, TV idols I grew up watching in the 80s. Modern American wrestling is very Hollywood and proscribed in comparison, but then UK wrestling was almost a part-timers’ event in the ways of diet and training – these characters were real ardent professional amateurs compared to modern wrestlers and were happy to stay on the provincial stage. It’s about layman being fantastical. It reminds me of Jonathan Jones saying something about the characters that imagine a balletic Wild West as if painted by Watteau.”
Talent issue - the artist: Ryan Mosley
by Michael Glover
Saturday, 29 December 2007
Too many young artists are content to manipulate technology. The result is often slick and advertising-friendly, but fundamentally lacking in any feeling of a human presence. Quite the opposite is the case with the young painter Ryan Mosley, who was trained at Chesterfield College of Art and Design, Huddersfield University, and finshed his post-graduate studies at London's Royal College of Art earlier this year.
Mosley is a hands-on painter from first to last. His paintings, usually oils on linen which helps to give depth and density to the work are quirky narratives, ever-restless examples of story-telling of a kind that relates back to various recognisable traditions, from Brueghel and the Flemings, to Dutch still-life and genre painting of the 17th century.
Born in Chesterfield in 1980, his father is an engineer. Ryan attributes his enthusiasm for painting to watching his father doing drawings of LP covers at the weekends. By the age of 13 or 14, he knew he wanted to be an artist.
Drawing is at the heart of the son's work too. His paintings are often worked up from tiny notebook illustrations, often the most simplistic line drawings of comic faces. There is no preconceived notion of what any painting will become. Each one is an act of discovery.
Mosley's paintings relate to notions of carnival and the grotesque. He invents and choreographs characters, often the weirdest of hybrids, as if the canvas under attack were a theatre set in the making. There is humour, grotesquery and a perpetual ambiguity of mood. The stories he seems to be telling are open-ended, and shot through with a kind of zestfully sinister humour.
The making process is often arduous, with the paint being applied and erased repeatedly. Some of the paintings seem to be built up out of odd, composite parts, and in that respect they resemble collage. A head is attached to a knee; an arm seems to have the strangest of twists. Unpredictability is the order of the day. These invented characters seem to be emerging from the surface of the painting in order to shock and delight us by their presence.
Read the entire article here
Ryan Mosley: Census
Review by Richard Dyer, Issue 24, July/ August 2008
Back-to-back, two black-hatted gents, readying themselves for a duel? Or simply Siamese twins of an aristocratic bearing, on their way, one way or the other, to that evening's wayward soirée, brothers of the head from an alternate Victorianate universe? In Ryan Mosley's parallel world we are never sure whether we are looking at a mask, a disfigurement or a picture of the subject's inner world, stigmated onto their face. Of course it is none of these; it is just a painting.
Masks and portraits have one thing in common; they both imitate, or attempt to imitate, the human face. This act of mimicry is reminiscent of several species in the insect world which employ the most elaborate devices to imitate another, usually more powerful, predator. This dialogue between the mimetic aspirations of figurative painting and the concealing/revealing properties of masks is disrupted by the coherence of the world that Mosley has created. Perhaps what we are looking at is neither a mask nor a disfigurement but the natural appearance of a different being, a regular inhabitant of this other world.
By transposing his figures into a parallel world Mosley is able to play out his complex and folkloric narratives without the pedestrian inhibitions of our reality. In the multiple-figure compositions, characters interact in scenarios which mediate the thin membrane between the sinister and the erotic, the uncanny and the comical. What we witness could be some elaborate game, a grotesque play staged for our entertainment; or the final scene of a macabre and ritual murder, the culminating moment in a gruesome act of torture.
The portraits often involve heads made of several personae; reminiscent of Arcimboldo's composites, but here the elements are other beings, like a graphic representation of a multiple personality. One of the recurring elements of this 'head with a head of its own' is a skull, imbuing the paintings with the gravitas of vanitas. Mosley endeavours to show the multiple aspects of the subject by literally including them all in the same head. He posits a hyperfigurative psychocubism, a new way of picturing the complexity that lies at the heart of the human psyche.