Fear of commitment
Ryan Stark’s illustrations mostly are populated by nude young women, with a few skeletons or men reaching for guns making guest appearances. His exhibit is comprised of about 60 pieces hung and framed haphazardly about the walls at Café Tat2.
His ladies appear perky-breasted, suggestive and vulnerable. Some smile coyly from their 8 1/2 by 11 floating copy-paper space. Some reach for their vaginas, and some display a quiet strength. Some are just girls who look sad about something. Stark’s style is cartoonish, and he admits that “comic books got their hooks into me at a young age. I’m basically a glorified illustrator.”
He names illustrator Derek Hess as an artistic influence, as well as Picasso, El Greco and Gustav Klimt. A painting of a girl—head turned away on a milky white and impossibly long neck, draped in a long robe, with nipples at full attention—evokes the spirit of Klimt’s figures. Stark describes some of his work as being “giant comic book rip-offs of El Greco’s ‘Virgin Mary.'”
Avant-garde jazz also plays an important role for Stark when he draws and paints. Lines are boundaries crossed with pigments like blood and coffee, spilling outside the figures, perhaps following along with a Coltrane solo.
“I have a fear of commitment,” jokes Stark, speaking about his drawings. “I do,” he follows, speaking about his own fears. He has a girlfriend who was kind enough to hang the show, not in any particular patterns or groupings. The 25-30 framed drawings above the condiment bar appear as one piece, tied together by the uniformity of dollar-store frames.
Stark is better known around town for writing and performing his own material in spoken-word format, running an open-mic night for many years. The visual art is another form of communication for Stark, and he places utmost value on communicating.
“If I can’t write it or say it, hopefully, I can paint it,” he says.
On first glance, exactly what Stark is trying to communicate may be misconstrued. His young nude females are submissively sexual, and it’s an easy call to say that he attempts to subjugate women in his work. However, that judgment is too easy. Stark’s girls are mostly cartoons and don’t strive to realism. Even with girls tied up or touching themselves, his drawings would only be at home in a cartoon version of Playboy to be handed out to pimply, horny high school boys and blasted by teenage semi-feminist Avril Levigne types.
Stark loosely describes the content of his artwork as “sex, violence and vulnerability,” and one doesn’t have to search to see these themes in the work. The nude women are obviously vulnerable, but perhaps the skull-headed male figures show their vulnerability through their mortality.
These skull-headed men rendered in inky blacks on manila envelopes stand out in the sea of feminine flesh. The figures wear black, as does Stark today, and they seem to tuck their shirts into their pants in a similar way. Another skull figure whips a microphone around to its toothy mouth, open and presumably spewing spoken-word material forcefully at a crowd. The viewer catches a peek at Stark’s view of himself.
A few early pencil sketches look out of place next to carefully crafted drawings, such as a soft drawing of a woman seated on the floor sipping milky coffee in her underwear as seen from above. It’s powerful in its simplicity, and there is much love for both the woman and her coffee in Stark’s commitment to lines and his desire to communicate this tiny moment in time.