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Interview: Ryan Browning's Evolving Worlds

Interview: Ryan Browning's Evolving Worlds

Lives and works in Doha, Qatar

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

I became an artist after attending university, trying a few majors, and realizing most other long-term endeavors (careers?) probably wouldn't maintain my interest for long. I've always thought of myself as an artist but I guess there was a point where I thought, "OK, looks like I'm doing this." After that a good blend of determination, poor planning, and financial ignorance carried me on past all of the exit ramps, and here I stand still. I feel privileged and very lucky to be able to carry on.

Arsonist, oil on linen, 72 by 60 inches, 2021

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, a very mild and uneventful place. Fertile middle class ground. The topography of Houston is utterly flat. I was a latchkey kid, and spend endless hours watching television, playing video games, microwaving whatever thing was in the freezer, and doing foolish stuff in the woods behind my neighborhood. We got access to the internet via Compuserve in the early 1990s and I got into LAN parties and all of that. I think this gradual immersion into increasingly interactive pictorial space over the span of those early years is the primary influence on my work. In the past few years I've been back and forth between traditional painting and modeling and working digitally towards the production of digital assets and 3D output, which seems to fit the mode and format of those early influences.

Studio View

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

I used to want to be an animator. I love the backgrounds in older animations - the hand-painted stuff. I loved how cel shaded characters and moving objects just sort of floated around all flat in that beautiful world. That's carried through as an influence in all of my work, even in the beginning. For a while in the '00s I was very into Virtual Worlds and wanted to make work that explored MMoRPGs and other 3D games as a narrow band of influence, but later realized that was too narrow. I have a love/hate relationship with games and really don't want to have to talk about them for the rest of my life, but I am very strongly interested in the feature they have of allowing you to inhabit a living, evolving picture. This concept is the one that won, and it's where most of my ideas begin now.

Studio View

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

I think ever since I started using Instagram, this question has become more difficult to respond to. I don't have the attention span I used to have. I used to collect books and visit galleries more often, and had strong feelings about certain artists' work, but that's faded a little now that I'm looking at so much all the time. There's a part of me frozen in time that want's to answer with Neo Rauch, because for a time I thought about his work quite a lot. Matthias Weischer too. I absolutely love the space in his paintings - it's flat but so satisfyingly tactile. Tom Sachs is a newer source of inspiration, but more in the sense that I respond to his studio ethic, and he's done an amazing job of communicating that as a part of who he is and what he does as an artist. It's hard to not name every other person who should be mentioned here - so many friends and artists I lurk on Instagram should be listed here, but there are just so so many.

Bayou, oil on linen, 72 by 60 inches, 2021

Where do you find inspiration?

In the past few years playing tabletop role playing games has been a big influence. I like the naive fantasy artwork associated with older editions of those games - it's generally unsophisticated and perfectly escapist (and I mean this in the most complimentary sense). I live in the desert here in Qatar and everything tends to be painted the color of dust. That color has become important to me lately. My family is a big inspiration - I have three kids who keep my eyes open to new things.

Studio View

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

In 2016 I made a painting called Dissimulative Mana Battery that marked an important moment in time. It's this shrine-like painting of objects that actually called back imagery and a format that I had been working in years prior, but had abandoned for a time.

Dissimulative Mana Battery, oil on canvas, 60 by 50 inches, 2016

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

I felt guilty for going back and forth between this kind of format and another way of working that was more map-like, using gouache instead of oil paint. The guilt was silly and unnecessary, but I was sensitive at the time to the idea that you had to build a consistent body of work in order to be taken seriously. After making this painting though, I realized I was just zooming in and out of the same world, looking up close and far away at this space I was occupying in the paintings. Getting comfortable with that idea has opened up a lot of new possibilities for me, including producing sculptural objects that I imagine being pulled out of that world into our own - my practice has become very elastic and organic in a way I find much more satisfying than before.

Crusty Slice, gouache on paper, 17.5 by 21.5 inches, 2014

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

Don't worry about what people will think of your work - if you're serious about it and thinking about it all the time and making it genuinely yours, then it's yours and who cares whatever else happens. Also, if you don't know how to make something or do something, start by doing it badly. Your awkward, weird way of doing things is ok. Go ahead.

Homonculus, oil on linen, 72 by 60 inches, 2021

What are you working on now?

I'm wrapping up work on some small oil on copper paintings that I primed way back in 2005. They were going to be something else completely back then but I never got to it, and I'm enjoying getting back to working at that scale with fresh eyes.

Work in Progress

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

Get out more.

Work in Progress

About the Artist

Based in Doha, Qatar

Born in Houston, Texas in 1981, Browning now lives in Doha, Qatar. His work has been written about in The New York Times, ARTnews, ArtMaze Magazine, Art F City, and others. He has exhibited at ADA Gallery (Richmond, VA), Mother Gallery (Beacon, NY), Resort (Baltimore, MD), Mulherin Pollard (NYC), Allegra LaViola (NYC), VOLTA NY (NYC), The Fire Station Museum (Doha, Qatar), Woaw Gallery (Hong Kong), Menage Gallery (St. Petersburg, RU), and others. He is represented by ADA Gallery and is an Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar.

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