imagine a line — not a straight one, but one that twists and turns like a meandering river — stretching from the Renaissance works of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, to the Mannerist paintings of Parmigianino, and from Parmigianino to the Dutch Old Masters. The river twists and bends but never terminates. It goes on from the Baroque into the Rococo, and from the Rococo to Neoclassicism and Romanticism, to 19th-century realism and on into the present era, where ideas, styles, and techniques continue to build on the long history of Western art traditions. The Ryder Studio in Santa Fe continues these traditions in figurative paintings and drawings, and its founder, Anthony Ryder, knows the river runs fathoms deep.
Ryder and his wife, Celeste, studied at the Art Students League of New York in the 1980s, working under Ted Seth Jacobs, who now runs his own school, L’Ecole Albert Defois, in France. The Ryder Studio, established in 2007, operates in much the same way as the 19th-century ateliers, the private studio schools or workshops of professional artists teaching a small group of students. At Ryder, students work from live models or create still lifes. “It’s really like a one-room schoolhouse,” said Anthony Ryder, who is one of three instructors at the studio, along with Celeste Ryder and John Reger. “The information we’re conveying is the same information over and over and over again, but people get it at different levels; beginners will sometimes grab on to certain basic, methodological, technical things, and the more advanced students would be focusing on more refined aspects of the same process.” All three instructors and the studio’s current students show their work in the annual Ryder Studio Exhibit at Argos Studio and Gallery and Santa Fe Etching Club, opening on Friday, April 8. It’s an opportunity for beginning students to exhibit alongside their more technically advanced peers.
Located at the Second Street Studios, the Ryder Studio is a small, low-ceilinged space with lighting designed to illuminate subjects in variable conditions. The atelier program is a year long and begins in the fall. “Not everybody who’s here studies full time,” Ryder said. “Some of the students are here for the whole year, and others come for a week sometimes, or they’ll come for a month, or the fall term, or the spring semester. We have a pretty flexible enrollment system.” The program is intensive. Students study portrait
painting in the morning sessions and drawing in the afternoons. In the last few weeks before the end of the semester, the focus is more on painting. “Every time we do a portrait, it’s another opportunity to practice the same thing and see into it a little deeper. Our procedural, methodological side gets a little more confidence, and we get a little more facility in the way we do things. The longer a person can study here, the more they assimilate the body of knowledge and practical experience, and then they can take that into their own practice.”
The work on view at Argos ranges from nearphotographic realism to looser, more painterly portraits rendered in oils, as well as charcoal and graphite drawings. At Ryder, students practice capturing the effects of light in small color sketches called poster studies. Rather than being used for finished compositions, the small studies are rough, undetailed, and mostly featureless. Understanding the properties of light and how it affects colors and tones is a key lesson taught at the studio. “These studies represent the feeling of the shining of light, the light of the space and of the subject. The particulars of the technical aspects of drawing and painting that we employ here pretty much come through me and my wife and our teacher with whom we studied in New York.”
Figurative painting and drawing fell out of favor in the mid-20th century, as artists tested the limits of abstraction, turned their attention to conceptual and minimalist practices, and abandoned realism. “The suppression of it in the middle of the 20th century gave a lot of other styles of art and a lot of other philosophies and modes of expression an opportunity to shine and to be out there and gain acceptance,” Ryder said. “There almost came to be an idea that if an artist wasn’t breaking with tradition, they weren’t really an artist. The breaking of things became the hallmark of artistic exploration. There was an explosion of stylistic experimentation that’s carrying into the present time, too.”
But figurative, realist painting, which never went away, has been experiencing a resurgence of interest. “In my mind, it’s a little bit like if a developer created a large shopping mall and paved a big part of a field. It was there for 40 years and then, let’s say, the shopping mall was abandoned and things started to come up through the cracks — grasses and trees — and you couldn’t really find the asphalt anymore.”
Ryder has two paintings in the exhibit: Chelsea and Harlequin. The latter is a soulful, mysterious, unfinished portrait of a young woman that conveys a depth of expression through the rendering of her eyes, which are painted almost black save for the finest pinpoints of white in each, representing reflected light. His Harlequin is given weight by something outside the canvas: whatever it is that she has fixed her gaze upon. It’s not just a portrait but a portrait of someone looking at something. It pulls you in by suggesting subtext or narrative. By contrast, the gaze of the subject of Jillian Mazur’s oil on linen Westin ,a student work, reads as more introspective. Because the students work from live models, the subject is often the same. Westin is also the title of another student portrait, this one by Emile Wiegand Bruss, and of another piece by instructor John Reger. The differences in painting techniques — the tighter treatment of Weigand Bruss and the looser brushwork of Reger, for example — show that Ryder Studio fosters individual expression.
“People have done representational painting since the Egyptian times, or even prehistoric times,” Ryder said. “There’s a certain fractional population that just seems to need to do this. Now that it’s no longer considered kind of contrary to ‘real’ art, it’s coming back in leaps and bounds.”
▼ The Ryder Studio Exhibit
▼ Opening reception 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 8; exhibit through May 1
▼ Argos Studio and Gallery & Santa Fe Etching Club, 1211 Luisa St., 505-988-1814
Anthony Ryder: Harlequin, oil on linen panel; top, from left, Jamie Gillespie: Booker, graphite on paper; Daralyn Peifer: Booker, graphite and chalk on paper; Mary Stovall: Booker, graphite on paper