Artist Ryan Driscoll’s elegant, Renaissance-inspired portraits of mythical figures have enchanted many — the painter worked on a T-shirt for Loverboy’s collaborative line with Topshop as part of their Pride collection and was commissioned to design the backdrop for the Shrimps AW19 catwalk. Ryan, who is currently based in the British town of Corby, graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Camberwell College of Art in 2016. Yet, his interest in art started long before this. “When I was a child, I visited the National Gallery for the first time and saw the walls filled with the work of all these dead artists. It struck me that their paintings were still drawing viewers in, which made me realise that painting could communicate with others forever,” Ryan tells us. “The piece that really transformed my understanding of painting was Bronzino’s An Allegory with Venus and Cupid. I was perplexed by it because of the sinister and confusing beauty of these icy white corpses bathed in ultramarine.”
Ryan’s art primarily centres on Greek and Roman mythology. From Dionysus, to Icarus and Medusa, the artist repeatedly interrogates the relationship between the fantastical and the real through his work. For Ryan, it is the universality but also the enchantment and fluidity of mythological storytelling that sees him reimagining it to tell his own tales. “I use myths to allegorically communicate my own thoughts and queer ideas of beauty, love, death and the non-binary androgynous body. Symbolism allows the viewer to interpret the work in whichever way they choose. Plus the Greeks were pretty queer so it helps — most of the gods were involved in queer affairs or tragedies at some point.” Alongside his mythological influences, Ryan also draws inspiration from Biblical myths, Shakespeare, traditional Scottish and Irish ballads and even twentieth century literature such as the work of J.G. Ballard.
Ryan’s creative process often begins with abstract ideas. First off, he reflects on what he hopes to communicate through his paintings and how best to do so through various compositions. “My drawings are basic to begin with – mainly directional lines and sweeping curves in order for me to develop a composition that feels just right,” the artist explains. After careful editing, “the drawings become more refined and are consequently transferred to the final surface I’ve chosen, which is usually a wooden board. I then layer my oils in thinly, working only on top of dry paint. I seem to spend more time waiting for paint to dry than doing actual painting.”
Considering the immaculate precision and thoughtful construction of his paintings, it is unsurprising that Ryan has a number of various references from which he draws aesthetic inspiration. These include paintings by Bronzino and Pontormo’s Deposition from the Cross and Visitation as well as Cindy Sherman’s Untitled film stills, Federico Fellini’s Guilietta deli Spiriti and the films of Powell and Pressburger like Black Narcissus. Ryan’s rich reference pool is reflected in the care he puts into his paintings and looking to the future, he will continue to create work that is true to his lived experience; albeit with a fantastical twist. He goes on to say: “Currently I’m making drawings that evoke an emotional response from me. But these take time to develop. It’s important to me that my art both reflects and explores my queer experience.”