Gallery explores the hinterland

Adrian Ryan (1920-1998) The Abstract Hinterland is at The Town Hall Galleries, Cornhill, Ipswich until November 17.Francis Bacon described the painter Adrian Ryan as “the best kept secret in the art world”.

Adrian Ryan (1920-1998) The Abstract Hinterland is at The Town Hall Galleries, Cornhill, Ipswich until November 17.

Francis Bacon described the painter Adrian Ryan as “the best kept secret in the art world”. This retrospective, showing at The Town Hall Galleries, includes Suffolk and Cornish landscapes, stll lifes, and portraits, painted mainly in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Ryan's style might best be described as expressionist with elements of abstraction. It's a powerful show by a significant post war modern artist with a painterly grasp of his subject.

The exhibition features a number of paintings of Mousehole in Cornwall, where Ryan lived for a time, before finally settling in Holbrook, Suffolk. Mousehole Harbour 1962, oil on canvas, celebrates the town's austere beauty. Pointy- roofed houses, some coated with a brushstroke of mustard, rise from the quay where a few figures, painted in black, stroll. The background, a hill of lush green grass and trees which rise to a lonely church, contrasts with the stone houses. Ryan plays with perspective; the trees slant as if about to slide downwards. It's a busy painting, full of colour, expression and interesting contradictions. The same rooftops are featured in Mousehole Harbour c1960, charcoal on newspaper and card. Ryan looks down on the town, like a bird on high. The dramatic composition, with its tightly knit roofs and lanes, painted in muted tones, is as much a work about the seen as the unseen. The viewer, like the artist, enjoys the freedom of a sky the work does not allow him/her to see.

Waveney Valley 51, and Elm Wood Farm 1955, both oils of Suffolk, are striking tree studies that express an affinity with their location. The first oil, with its blue, green and white palette, sees towering trees reflected in the river. The style is loose, the brushstrokes thick, though less so than in the second darker work where a low evening sun is made of thick impasto. Both paintings, well illuminated, suggest man's respect for nature and also awe of it.


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Ryan's portraits of Reg Watkins c1960, Wyn Godley c1951, and Little Grannie 1941, all oils, are all different. The palette in the portraits of the men is quite fauvist, one detailed the other quite loose. Little Grannie is cruder, outlined in black, her face like a series of stone slabs, mounds and drooping jowls, one eye a black hole.

Ryan's still lifes of fish are fabulous, daring, and celebrate the individuality of all things fishy. Sprats 1994, charcoal on paper, is a sketch of 16 very different fish piled in a heap, as if just tossed from the bag; gills and jowls drawn with speed and accuracy. Oysters And Lemons and Red Mullet, both oils painted in 1949, are mouth watering in their glistening beauty and tantalising hues.

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Adrian Ryan's links with Suffolk stemmed from his grandfather's ownership of Hintlesham Hall, where Ryan spent much of his childhood. His father was the portrait painter Vivian Ryan. Ryan's first show was at the Redfern Gallery, London, in 1943, where as well as the RA he exhibited frequently. He also taught for many years at Goldsmiths' College, London. Adrain Ryan may well be a well kept secret but his paintings are housed in a number of prestigious collections and since his death a continuous programme of exhibitions have travelled the country. A very enjoyable show.

Sonia Carvill

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