A solo exhibition by David Ryan Viray.
In “I Love You, Earth,” David Ryan Viray wields his oil paints and brushes to tell multifaceted stories that map out a personal journey, employing emotions unsaid, pent-up dreams and covert desires into images that play on truth and perception. Ever fascinated about the artistic process and how it both consumes and contributes to one’s growth, his latest offerings are both inspired and given precaution by the writings of John Welwood, a noted psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher.
Viray dwells particularly on spiritual bypassing, defined by Welwood as “…tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” The artist has noticed the prevalence of this exercise in an inclination towards escapism with the pandemic currently plaguing the globe and affecting everyone’s lives. As a result, Viray intentionally made an effort to question known realities and the way they are seen on the surface level, playing with characters, scenarios and dreamlike tableaux to try digging deeper into harsh truths and inner trauma.
A familiar subject seems to be in the quandary in what to do next in The Consequence of a Good Painting is a Bad Painter, which suitably sets off the exhibition. The differing textures of painted canvas, wood, stone, bricks, and linear demarcations in the piece lead to an orb hanging precariously on edge, suspended by anticipation of what goes next, while the reflection on it seems to have been from an earlier stage in the process, a tabula rasa. Inertia counters the ephemerality of smoke from a lit pipe, this particular object evoking Magritte’s The Treachery of Images as what an image portrays and its nature seem to differ according to personal discernment, biases and artifice.
Arty Fist may be applied to the artist’s experience of the day by day in trying to staying productive despite the paralyzing mental and psychological burdens of the pandemic. A study in five phases, common elements– a canvas that demands to be filled, a lamp that should bear both physical light and enlightenment, and grossly arthritic hands with fingers that do not quite know which way to turn speak of the absurdity and twistedness of the situation an artist finds himself in. The appearance of a cigarette that burns slowly into less and less tells of sanity and patience wearing thin, resources almost thoroughly spent.
Old Mang and the Mamaya Calendar portrays a place where nature takes over, plant life framing a sole survivor with a beloved pet, inspired by the jade-studded red jaguar throne found in the Kukulkan pyramid at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. His twisted fingers betray the struggles he has been through to exist thus far, and it should tide him over in the coming days. The sun dappled light patterned on his leg offsets the texture of his surroundings, with a cascading white beard leading to a bent knee and his other foot stepping on floor markings reminiscent of the Mayan calendar, touching on conspiracy theories about the end of the world.
The Professional Mishandling, the biggest piece in the exhibition, is also the most detailed and intricately planned as the scene moves inside a cave and appears as if viewed within a skull, with an eye socket looking out into the sky leading the viewer’s eye. Stalactites glow eerily as witness to a macabre operation, where mists permeate the air and otherworldly shadows inviting a disposition to pareidolia haunt the walls. A patient is brought back to life with a green orb that symbolizes rebirth, renewal and immortality. As witnesses melt away in awe of the procedure, the patient is given a new chance to rise in all his hooded power and potency.
Time stands still in Learning to Play with Fire, with two figures lounging across each other as shadows play in hidden caves and move with the flames of a bonfire. Whether seeking lessons in keeping fire stoked or the biology of warm bodies, there seems to be an intimate conversation in progress while the pair relate and engage. Warmth and comfort suffuse the image as we imagine them communing in vulnerability and defenselessness, perhaps with one teaching the other, both learning in the process of discovering mysteries of the unknown depths and crannies of each other’s psyche and physiology.
Bill Gates features a running man desperately clutching two objects, a canvas of precious artwork that signifies creative agency and production, and a Jin Chan or Money Toad biting gold coins for abundance. It seems the figure is propelled by a quest for power, fame and bounty, whether he is hastily making his escape or securing the objects he so desperately protects and want to keep, but who knows for sure? Beyond the wall, authorities who could be either protectors or oppressors bear silent witness, intentions unknown. Lively puppies, literal spirit(ed) animals join the dash for freedom, excitedly lapping at the man’s heels in gaiety and enjoying the chase.
With each at times humorous, often irreverent mise-en-scène in Viray’s paintings, the artist continues to broaden his practice. The repetition of visual elements: walls illustrate both the structures one finds himself in and aims to escape from; hands grasp at brushes, scalpels, canvases or books, bearing mundane objects as proof of life; caves echoing anatomical shapes show affinity to curves found in nature and human bodies; orbs, lamps, and bulbs express hunger for clarity and illumination; all encompass new worlds to explore under deep umbrage, spectral glows of green and purple, and vibrant blue skies. Tracing an artist’s journey from Viray’s early grayscale, faithfully detailed and minimally-grounded works to I Love You, Earth’s atypical and surreal expositions bordering on visual overload, it seems the direction is towards the expulsion of ambiguous narratives flowing instinctively from his being. If spiritual bypassing is one’s defense mechanism via evasiveness and substitution in the belief that spiritual bandages can cure psychological wounds, the artist goes on an adventure in internal bystanding, or, serving as both spectator and enabler as his innermost compulsions unleash themselves on canvas, rendering life and tangibility to themselves. Loose and reckless, perhaps, but undeniably loving.
Words by Kaye O’Yek