RACV Art Collection Uncovered: Kathryn Ryan’s Artworks

Kathryn Ryan shares her artistic inspiration and connection to southwest Victoria in our latest Creation Station event.

Creation Station explores key pieces from the RACV Art Collection to inspire our Members to delve into the world of art. RACV’s first Creation Station successfully transported Marcel Cousins’ artwork from the Club’s walls to the digital sphere, giving Members the chance to appreciate the RACV art collection in a whole new way. Cousins explained how art was a communal experience and suggested that others would bring their own perspective to his imagery to complete the painting. 

Our second Creation Station focuses on Kathryn Ryan, an artist who paints misty landscapes that are mysterious, moody and mediative. Her practice is captivated by the landscapes of her youth: the farms and trees of southwest Victoria, particularly around Warrnambool. These places are both real and imagined. The scenes feel familiar and reminiscent of driving along a country road, with the trees resolute in the mist. 

The moody light of Ryan’s landscapes evokes a sense of ethereal ambiguity. Top Paddock 2011 speaks directly to how the play of light can affect the mood and atmosphere of Ryan’s world. The artist uses light to strike a balance between loneliness and solitude. Here, your perspective can take charge; while one person may see empty landscapes, another may see the calming possibilities of being alone. As the mist washes over the countryside, there is an emotional response, a sense of shifting between fragility and strength. 

Use the #RACVCreationStation if you have a question or want to share the RACV Art Collection with others!

Artist Kathryn Ryan in her workshop
Artist Kathryn Ryan in her workshop

Australian Kathryn Ryan has been a professional artist for more than 30 years. Her painting Top Paddock, oil on linen 137 x 183cm 2011 is part of the RACV Art Collection. Currently based in Warrnambool, Kathryn describes the inspiration for her ethereal paintings and her family connection to southwest Victoria in this Q&A for RACV Club Highlights

What is unique to the landscape of Southwest Victoria and what are you trying to capture in your paintings? 

Southwest Victoria is my 'home'. It’s where I grew up on a dairy farm, surrounded by vast skies, changing weather and seasonal changes. This sense of space and my view of the landscape is deeply part of who I am. It’s my reference point and my memories. It’s what is familiar and what I connect to and identify with. The place we call home – the landscape and environment we grew up in and live in – permeates how we see the world and identify our experiences. Personally, this landscape offers me a range of views, light, mood and space that I emotionally respond to and I aim to convey my memories, longings and experiences of being in the landscape. Wide paddocks, dramatic skies, light and weather, punctuated by battered old pines and rows of cypress hedges, define this dairy farming landscape.

Are there particular types of trees you are drawn to painting? 

I have always been drawn to the battered, tall pines and cypress trees and the hedges that act as windbreaks. The sculptural shapes, defined by the light coming out of moody skies, and their placement within the landscape always draws my attention.

Your oil paintings have depth and luminosity, from a technical point of view, how do you achieve this?

The short answer is many, many layers and lots of trial and error and patience! I work in mostly washy layers of transparent oil colours, thinned with painting medium. The works are built up slowly with reworking, overpainting and glazing. There is some initial underpainting and building of tones and colours, then it is almost 'lost or destroyed' as I build up gradual layers of glazes over the whole painting, often losing the original underpainting, then I repaint it all again, followed by more glazes...it's a long process. It usually takes about three months or longer. The painting is often in a precarious situation of, will it survive or be lost!

You grew up on a farm in the Western District. Was it a surprise to your family when you decided to become an artist? 

Art was not something I was exposed to, but I guess at an early age I always had an interest in expressing myself creatively. My parents were incredibly understanding and, as long as I was happy, they were happy for me. We all had the freedom to pursue whatever interested us. Growing up in a family of 12, being fairly self-sufficient, not having a lot of money, thinking laterally to solve problems and always pushing on and never giving up...plus the beautiful outdoors, sky, land and seasons to feed the soul...I think these qualities have helped me along the way! 

How did growing up in a large family on a farm contribute to your professional practice? 

After many years working in isolation in the studio, I can see how my farming upbringing has inadvertently given me some good experience and training for life as an artist. The routine and ritual of farming – working in isolation, working on long projects and relying on limited income at intervals or only once a year – is not dissimilar to the life of an artist supporting themselves solely with their art practice. 

What themes have you explored in Top Paddock 2011

I had been living in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi and was in Australia for about a year when Top Paddock was painted in 2011, before I returned to live in Dubai (where my husband was working as an architect). So, from this contrast, I was particularly drawn to reconnecting with the landscape I had grown up with, even though I was still based in the city. 

I wanted to bring the farming life I had known, to my present life as a contemporary artist exhibiting in the city. I remember I wanted the painting titles to reflect the down-to-earth nature of farming life, so there were titles such as Top Paddock, Farm Windbreaks and Farm Hedges in Winter. I was capturing what was familiar and grounding to me: the freshness of winter landscapes, paddocks, fences, big skies, and how the pines punctuated the landscape and the spaces in between. This landscape of 'home' always offers me a calm and contemplative space. 

Top Paddock 2011 also evokes a calm and contemplative space for other people. How do you think art contributes to our spirituality and mental wellbeing? 

For me it is completely intertwined. I can't differentiate between these. For me, they are one and the same thing: art, nature, spiritualty and mental wellbeing. Art is my language for observing and communicating what I see and feel. I connect to the world and my inner self through art and nature, which is also how I ground myself and find balance and peace in my life. 

Art, nature and spirituality are so intertwined for me, which in turn is how I look after my mental wellbeing. There is a process of inner reflection and self-knowledge, of observing nature, and all these things contribute to self-awareness, empathy and an understanding of our lives.

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