WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A PLEIN AIR ARTIST
6 REASONS TO REUSE, RECYCLE AND REFRESH
While driving down the busy streets of Greenpoint, one cannot help but be amazed at the imposing graffiti all over the city. The people on the streets move rapidly in masses as if they were running late or away from something. There are cars and trucks, and more cars awaiting the all too common traffic lights to turn green, and then more people appear out of nowhere, crossing streets and zigzagging relentlessly from one sidewalk to the other. Everyone must have something very important to do in Greenpoint today. At least I know I do, as I finally find the ending point on my map.
Walking into Ryan Metke’s New York studio is like walking into a parallel dimension. The contrast between the world outside the colossal Brooklyn building and the creative space inside is astounding. Old hardwood flooring, high ceilings, stairs to nowhere and the exposed piping are just a stimulating background to the massive paintings, sculptures and lots, and lots of paint tubes, brushes and pencils. Here, Metke lives and breathes art.
To think that Metke’s work is influenced by the urban surroundings of his space may be likely, but utterly inaccurate. This artist’s work comes from a deeper sense of self and from a heart full of noble emotions. A few words into our conversation and I knew I was dealing with much more than superficial, aesthetical projects. The genius of Metke comes from a life of imaginary exploration, thorough research and a passion for literary masterpieces such as Thor Heyerdahl’s
Kon- Tiki and Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, both adventurers and explorers who compiled their maritime expeditions for the world to enjoy. Having traveled to other continents himself, Metke safeguards his own adventures and concocts his vibrant works of art about these travels. A few years back, the artist spent three months in Indonesia assisting on a documentary.
Metke was born in Fort Myers. “Right on the river,” he says, referring to the Caloosahatchee River, which serves as the inspiration for the newly named River District in downtown Fort Myers. He grew up in Southwest Florida until he made his way to Savannah, Ga., to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design in 1998. After graduating in 2003, Metke returned to Fort Myers where he planned and produced a very successful exhibition in the space now occupied by the Franklin Shops in downtown Fort Myers. This is where he met former gallery owner Terry Tincher.
“We showed Metke’s work [ at the gallery] in April of 2010, and we sold a great deal of his work. I personally own three of his large- scale pieces and love his work,” says the avid collector and Space 39 founder. Tincher says that Metke’s works speak for themselves. “They are reminiscent of JeanMichel Basquiat’s works, but more refined. He [ Metke] knows what his voice is and where he is going,” adds Tincher, who recently began working as the agent for Marcus Jansen, another prolific Southwest Florida artist.
In 2003, Metke decided to move to New York and ultimately found the perfect place to house his studio, an old bathhouse building in the Brooklyn suburb. “This city caters to the art world, and I think this is a good place for me to produce and promote my work,” says the Southwest Florida native while showing me a fascinating collection of wasp nest sculptures casted in bronze. Such pieces, as well as other series that the artist produces in particular areas of the studio, touch on environmental subjects in the form of clever installations.
The carefully crafted crate that houses the real nests used to cast the sculptures is decorated with the artist’s signature letters, numbers and symbols, implying a form of art by itself. These wasp nests are covered with wax in order to create the molds for the bronze castings. It is an ingenious take on nature
“My paintings are maps, and if you look closely you may find that I am trying to take you from one place to another with the images.”
— Ryan Metke
represented as art with the intact replication and perpetuation of each piece. The wasp nest pieces are what Metke calls “site specific installations.” This means that the micro- sculptures are to be installed in places where a real nest would be found naturally. The castings, which are coated with a thin layer of gold as a final step, are as intricate as they are intriguing.
Continuing the studio tour, Metke points out that he is following his love of storytelling and utilizing cartography as the inspiration for his paintings. “My paintings are maps, and if you look closely you may find that I am trying to take you from one place to another with the images,” he adds, as we admire
Spider Love hanging from one of the vast walls in the space. There are countless clues, icons, numbers, words and images in this painting. It takes only a moment to realize the road map characteristics of the composition.
The stories and messages told by the artist are there, completely open for personal interpretation, and yet the work does not feel constrained to the canvas. Metke’s paintings seem to suggest puzzles that you, as the spectator, are encouraged to visualize and discover. The most noticeable attributes of Metke’s pieces are the vibrant colors and the unapologetic use of black outlines, digital media, spray paint and other unconventional mediums. These paintings are pop art without the glitziness.
Linked to his map- inspired paintings is the Take One Down series, consisting of a collection of messages in glass bottles, literally. Metke centers on the aspect of human communication with a collection of 99 recycled glass bottles, which he utilizes as vessels for maps and text stamped on copper sheets. This fascinating project, directly inspired by his love of maritime adventure books and cartography research, involves other participants who willingly take on the task of releasing the bottles in oceans all over the world. Metke and some of his friends have released them in different parts of the planet.
I could not help but invite myself to be one of Metke’s messengers by releasing one of his bottles on the coast of the Irish town of Brae, during a recent visit. It is just one of the many pieces now floating around the Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe, North America and South America.
Metke maintains a detailed description of every single bottle, the message inside and the latitude and longitude of the locations where they have been released. He plans to continue sending the pieces of this project around the world until all 99 of them are gone. To date, only five of the bottles have been recovered. The intricate, hand- written and decorated log used as a record for the project is a piece of art in its own right. Metke proudly outlines the text stamped onto the copper sheets and updates it as soon as he is contacted by a finder.
The messages inside the bottles are excerpts from the many maritime books the artist reads, and the maps provide the contact information for reporting the find. The Take One Down project is ongoing, and it is a bridge for the artist’s transition from one idea to another. More on the subject can be found on the artist’s website at ryanmetke. com.
Currently represented by the groundbreaking Erick Firestone Gallery in East Hampton, N. Y., Metke has shown in other galleries in the city and is reaching for more representation in and outside New York. He confesses his desire to produce a series of three- dimensional works in the near future. In the meantime, he plans on continuing his quest for treasures. Armed with his maps, books, messages and an enthusiastic heart, he sails on towards new artistic destinations, and we cannot wait for what’s to come from this ingenious man.
Metke’s studio strikes a nice balance between creative work space and areas for relaxation.
The artist’s Take One Down series is a far- reaching work that puts bottles with maps and messages afloat in the world’s oceans. Metke meticulously logs all vessels sent and recovered.