Will Ryman was a playwright before he became a sculptor, and his work draws as much from the realm of theatre as it does from art. Spanning over 8 metres, The Bed is both a monumental sculpture and a stage. Made from papier mâché, Ryman’s giant man reclines in a dreamy world, somewhere between Sunday morning lie-in bliss and nervous breakdown, basking in the clutter of indulgence. Ryman crafts the accoutrements of pastime with cartoon exaggeration: notebooks, beer cans, open bag of crisps, and even the requisite faithful dog become comically distorted in this clumsy, lazy state of ennui.
Through his use of papier mâché, Ryman’s installation takes on the dimensions of set design. The Bed’s description of slacker-ish idle is humorously at odds with its oversized, commanding spectacle. By revealing the process of making, his clunky forms invite suggestive narratives through their self-conscious artifice, becoming both props and performers in an anti-drama of epic proportions. The bed itself operates literally as a platform or stage, the centre of expectant action and entertainment, a fabricated, self-contained tableau posing in (and overtaking) the viewer’s real-world space with delightful suspension of belief.
Will Ryman at Gasser & Grunert
This wistful, troubling exhibition explored the mysteries of childhood by dramatizing the inequities of scale endured by children in a grown-up world. Constructing narrative through a sequence of tableaux dated 2003, Will Ryman explores variations on the theme of Limbo--the repository of unbaptized children, virtuous nonbelievers, philosophers, writers and, presumably, artists. He introduces himself in a life-size self-portrait of acrylic paint and papiermache on an armature of wire mesh and PVC piping that effectively simulates a paint-spattered T-shirt, army fatigues, sneakers and a three-day beard. Seated on a side chair, he gazes longingly at a pastel drawing of a woman that hangs on the wall. Ryman's world is guarded by Big Guy, a pipe-thin, Giacomettiesque 12-foot figure, tall enough to overlook an adjacent room. From there on, the exhibition becomes labyrinthine.
Ryman riffs on the primal scene in an environment furnished with a plywood bed and bedside tables, a closet and a few drawings. A wirehaired, blissfully smiling woman reclines on the bed, pregnant, naked, knees spread, her mate's hand on her belly. A handmade-paper book of drawings limns a lonely man who meets a girl, gives her a flower, and they walk oft together. Disturbing this happy scene, The Closet nearby reveals knee-high little kids crying, whining and oddly smiling above a shelf filled with little sneakers--a preview of The Pit. This compounded limbo is an inaccessible room viewed only from above via a purpose-built stairway. Many more poignant little figures fill the room, arms stretched upward toward the viewer, their almost toothless mouths silently crying as though demanding to be boosted up. The Cage is a jail-like structure of papier-mache bars enclosing a handful of wailing beings of various heights, surmounted by two monstrous black figures, recalling the shadows parents cast over a crib in the night.