by Len Lear
Over the last 20 years or so, I have interviewed many fine Chestnut Hill area artists, but Hill resident Abbey Ryan is in another galaxy. Having taken a wonderful one-year college course many years ago on the legendary post-Middle Ages European painters, I could not help but notice the resemblance of Abbey’s still lifes to those of the 17th century Dutch masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, van Hoogstraten, etc.
Apparently, I am not the only one who is impressed by the luscious works of Ryan, 38, an associate professor at Arcadia University who has become an internationally acclaimed painter and educator, praised for her representational, classical realism, still life and tromp l’oeil paintings. A recognized leader in the “Painting-A-Day” movement, her paintings have been featured in “O,” The Oprah Magazine’s “Women Who Make Beautiful Things,” Fox’s “Good Day Philadelphia,” Yale Radio, “10,000 Hours” podcast and American Art Collector, among many others. She was named #5 on the list of the nation’s “49 Creative Geniuses” by Boost Blog Traffic.
On Sept. 23, 2007 (exactly 10 years ago as of this Saturday) Ryan started a “Painting-a-Day” blog (http://ryanstudio. blogspot.com), which has had an astonishing one million visitors from more than 100 countries. “More importantly, though,” she told us, “painting has become my meditative time and the best part of my day … Attempting to complete a painting every day speaks to my interest in ritual and mindful practice.”
Abbey began painting 16 years ago. In 2007, she started making daily paintings for her blog. “The still life and landscape paintings I make vary in subject matter and sizes ranging from 3 x 4 to 16 x 20 inches,” she said. “I prepare my painting panels and varnish and pack the paintings myself.”
In 2003, Abbey started her business, Ryan Studio. Her paintings are usually sold by eBay auctions and are in over 1,200 private and public collections around the world. “Abbey Ryan makes some of the most exquisite still life paintings you will ever see,” said a spokesman for Gleason Fine Art in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.
Ryan got her first degree, a B.A. in Scientific/Pre-Medical Illustration, but decided to stay in college an extra year to complete a second degree, a Bachelor of Fine Art in Painting. Her plan was to attend medical school for medical illustration, which she did at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for a semester following undergraduate work.
Johns Hopkins has a highly competitive and prestigious program in medical and biological illustration, and Ryan was the only student accepted early. Ultimately, though, she decided to leave medical school to pursue life as a fine art painter. She went on to get her Master of Fine Art in Painting from Hunter College in New York City.
The peripatetic Chestnut Hill resident (for the past four years) has painted in Brazil, Chile, South Korea, Cuba, Spain, Italy and all over the U.S. “I don’t think I can pick a favorite,” she told us in an earlier interview, “because I’ve had so many incredible experiences: painting a mango in Rio de Janeiro, the Andes in Santiago, Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, the Malecón in Havana, painting a plate of sardines from Mercado de La Boqueria in Barcelona, fresh-picked tomatoes from Mercato di Testaccio in Rome, olive groves in Assisi, the view of Mount Subasio from Perugia … I’ve been very lucky.”
Ryan was the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Norman Johnston Faculty Fellowship in the Humanities and Social Sciences, which began June 1, 2016, and will end May 31, 2018. Thanks to the Johnston Fellowship, Abbey spent the month of June painting on the island of Patmos, Greece, where a poet she admires very much, Robert Lax (1915-2000), spent much of the last 35 years of his life.
About a week after being there in early June, Abbey began searching for Lax’s former house, wandering around narrow streets and alleyways. “After a while, a man stopped and asked us what we were looking for. I said, ‘Roberto’s house?’ His face got serious, and he said, ‘The American spy?’ We shrugged (Lax wasn’t a spy), and he pointed us in the right direction. We found the house, which was pretty run down, snapped a couple pictures and left.”
Since 2007 Abbey has created between 1300 and 1400 paintings. She conducts live painting demonstrations, a practice reminiscent of the publicly visible Renaissance workshops that traditionally lined the Ponte Vecchio since at least the 12th century. For approximately two hours, she completes a painting from start to finish in front of a live audience and streamed live online in real time. The recording is then compressed into a short time-lapse video. In 2011, one of Ryan’s live demos was broadcast on FOX 29’s Good Day Philadelphia. Her live demonstrations are typically donation events with the painting auctioned as a fundraiser for various causes. (I watched a YouTube video which shows Abbey working on a classic still life painting. One can see why she was able to create the “Painting-a-Day” blog.)
“The number (of paintings) isn’t as important to me as what my daily painting practice means to me,” she said. “Some days are a challenge, but this practice has enriched my life, and that inspires me to continue painting as often as I do.”
In her spare time, Abbey likes to run on Forbidden Drive with her Jack Russell Terrier, Zuca, go to Goat Hollow or El Poquito with friends and spend time with family at the beach. And she would like to express her gratitude for “my amazing partner, Leigh Hopkins, 49, who is literally my favorite person on the planet.”
More information at www.abbeyryan.com