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NEW YORK — Sculptor Will Ryman is a puzzling combination of easy-going nonchalance and obsessive-compulsive angst. In person, he has a quiet, gentle presence. But what the six-foot-tall artist’s sly smile, hooded eyes and spackle-stained sweatshirts mask is an unsparing, almost reverent appreciation for detail.
For instance, in preparation for his next show at the Galerie Klüser 2 in Munich, which runs from Jan. 18 through the end of March, Ryman meticulously reconstructed the gallery space on the second floor of the Manhattan building he owns on the Bowery, a process that took several weeks and at least one trip to Europe.
“I wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any surprises when I got there,” says Ryman. “They sent me a floor plan. Then I went [to Munich] and walked through the space. When I came back, we made a chalk outline, and a friend of mine who’s an architect built it for me” — complete with a display window that duplicates the Klüser’s glass facade.
Though his father, Robert, is a celebrated painter, Ryman, born in 1969, didn’t originally conceive of a career in the plastic arts.
“I was writing [plays] for 10 or 12 years, but I got writer’s block,” he says. “Whatever I was trying to get to through writing, I couldn’t get to it. And then one day, I had this idea to sculpt my characters, and it just sort of bridged to this.”
“This” is an ongoing series of spindly, human-sized sculptures made from Celluclay, “a kind of instant papier-mâché of shredded paper with a glue component that becomes very hard, almost like concrete.” Previously, Ryman added paint to the composite before it dried, but for his latest group of works, he left the Celluclay white. The result is a group of haunting creatures, which Ryman decided not to name, that alternately bring to mind Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
Ryman’s latest exhibition also includes a number of small-scale sculptures, housed in tiny, individually lit boxes, powered by AA batteries and mounted on the walls of the gallery using cleats. “I wanted them to architecturally float, so that you might almost miss them,” he says. The figurines inside “are made of Sculpey clay — you know, that little kids use,” and range from mournful little men looking up through the glass to a disembodied, six-fingered hand.
This story first appeared in the January 11, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“It was a way of expressing a metaphor for being quiet, clean and normal on the outside, and very different on the inside,” Ryman says of the boxes. “When you look in the boxes, what you see is anything from cute to very upsetting. It depends on the viewer.
“At my last show in Chelsea, I didn’t have any control over light. There was so much of it flooding into the space from these skylights overhead. This was a way of controlling it.”
Pointing to a piece from that earlier Gasser & Grunert Chelsea show entitled “The Cage” — a container-sized box that viewers step into and the figures are outside the bars looking in — he leans in and says, almost in a whisper, “Can you believe someone bought this?”
Describing “The Bedroom,” another piece from a former show, Ryman sums up his take on his own art. “I tried to show love, but it came out twisted and terrible. Everyone thought, ‘Oh, Will’s got issues,’ but I think it’s interesting that what you intend to show sometimes comes out in different ways.”