Down a long, hidden driveway in Napeague, artist Will Ryan walks among dozens of paintings scattered around his porch and studio, each one nearing completion. Completed pieces hang proudly in his living room. Ryan chuckles at the stories behind their origin and collaborative process. Next week they will all be hanging in The White Room Gallery in Bridgehampton as part of his new show.
Dubbed East End Duets, the exhibition brings together some of the East End’s most acclaimed artists, each one collaborating with Ryan, entering pieces in several media, ranging from paintings to sculptures to collage.
“It’s very tribal out here, y’know. That’s what the show is—embracing the community. Especially the art community,” says Ryan.
The show has been in the planning stages for half a year now, rising out of Ryan’s recovery from his diagnosis of amyloidosis in 2014.
A form of cancer, amyloidosis creates abnormal protein cells in the bone marrow, which are then carried through blood plasma and can be deposited in any organ, shutting it down. Being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Ryan was put through chemotherapy, which only exacerbated his condition. He was then given the option of a stem cell transplant.
The transplant took place on February 25, 2015. He spent the next year recovering.
“I was at Sloan Kettering for five weeks and then I was at my sister’s house for two months, pretty much in quarantine. When I finally returned [to the East End], I got so much love from friends and family, it was overwhelming.”
The tremendous amount of love and compassion Ryan received upon his return led to the conception of the upcoming art show, one comprised entirely of collaborations with his friends and respected peers within the art community on the East End.
“Some are friends, some are people I know, some I don’t know but I appreciate their work. I went by what was going to work aesthetically and who I was going to enjoy working with,” says Ryan.
“We visited each other’s studios and I asked if they had anything to give me. I told everyone there are no rules except let’s try to keep it joyful. I wanted to have this show and celebrate life. This show is about compassion and joy—if you have any dark stuff, leave it at home.”
The final product is a collection of paintings that blend Ryan’s non-representational, spiritual aesthetic with his collaborators’ contributions of the tangible. A lovely seascape by Sally Breen rests peacefully under Ryan’s addition of a psychedelic, textured sky of gold-leaf and silver; detailed freighters, submarines and schooners drawn in ballpoint ink by Scott Bluedorn balance upon Ryan’s thick, rough, purple strokes on a field of white. It’s the presence of the spiritual, the ineffable, that unites all these pieces, celebrating the beauty of the natural world and the spiritual realm that resides around it.
Along with the visual collaborations, a second part in the works will feature an album of duets entirely improvised between Ryan and fellow musicians and artists. The album will include a book of poetry by Ryan and his friends, continuing his theme of community and collaboration. He hopes to have it completed by early November.
Ryan is now planning for future installments of this series. Ryan is lining up Duets West, a show he hopes to open early next year during his winter stay in Ojai, California.
East End Duets opens September 24 at The White Room Gallery, 241 Main Street, Bridgehampton, on view until October 8, 2016. A portion of the proceeds from the show will be donated to the Bone Marrow Transplant Department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital.