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In recent years, some artists from different parts of the world have turned their eyes to practices of old artistic traditions. With a renewed spirit, the energy of origin —paradoxically— can, all of a sudden, return in this present time, as the fleeting validity of a moment in the past. Or, on the contrary, as the present anticipation of an instant in the future.

Ryan Brown (Pennsylvania, United States, 1977) in the exhibition Pan, Pulso, Poder at Impakto gallery, in Lima, resorts to Still Life, an ancient Western genre of painting associated with tables and surfaces full of vegetables and other objects in ambiguous spaces. But more specifically in Ryan’s case, it is vanitas, Latin term used to simultaneously describe pride and a certain attitude towards death. Apparently Ryan makes it a strategy and, in turn, a tactic to deal with the present. With this, our artist challenges whoever enters his space, to associate what is perceived not only with the current context, given by the suffering of the Covid-19 pandemic —in this complex, difficult and tragic 2020—, but also to relate it to a constellation of thoughts and emotions that lead us from the ‘idea’ to the field of ‘dramatic narratives’ and, from these, to a certain ‘distancing’ effect.

But, what is this ‘idea’? The ‘idea’ is often conceived as an abstract and to some degree philosophical matter. However, here the ‘idea’ is referred to a good number of pieces that establish their meaning by being placed together in an enclosure. From an ordinary point of view, this enclosure, when one enters casually, is presented as a place that has inverted its referential space coordinates. As in some sci-fi film, suddenly, whoever enters the exhibition —and we accompany this person in this process— does so as a weightless body that floats around in front of the furnishing of all this existence suspended in time. As an existence that threatens to fall on our heads if, suddenly, the magic breaks.

Ryan Brown, Wish Upon a Star, 2020. Acrylic, ink, watercolor, steel, wood and natural pigments on canvas, 284 x 218 cm. Courtesy: Galería Impakto, Lima
Ryan Brown, Blow Harder, 2020. Acrylic, ink, watercolor, steel, wood and natural pigments on canvas, 284 x 218 cm. Courtesy: Galería Impakto, Lima
Ryan Brown, 38-40, 2020. Acrylic, ink, watercolor, steel, wood and natural pigments on canvas, 284 x 218 cm. Courtesy: Galería Impakto, Lima

The ‘idea’, the furnishing, unfolds into five complexes of objects: Blow Harder, Wish upon a star, 38-40, Veritas nunquam perit (12 parts) and Let sleeping dogs lie. In this display each complex functions as a different voice, so to speak. The first three are paintings that existentially feed on the aesthetics of collage, exhibiting zones of color that appears covered, obliterated, by other material. Crucial and neuralgic, this area of concealed color aims towards a signaling —silenced and suspended— about the canon of geometric painting. It does so through a kind of displacement, a movement that ends up associated with other situations.

These first three voices then are illustrated and common place at the same time. But they are voices with interference. If they were considered hyperrealistic paintings that simulate collage, this distancing effect, that is, of ‘appearing what it is not’, could put pressure on the very identity of Western painting to produce a sought-after estrangement in those who observe them.

Ryan Brown, Veritas Nunquam Perit – Part 1, 2020. Courtesy: Galería Impakto, Lima
Ryan Brown, Veritas Nunquam Perit – Part 2, 2020. Courtesy: Galería Impakto, Lima
Ryan Brown, Veritas Nunquam Perit – Chapter 10. Acrylic and canvas on wood, 121 x 167 x 7 cm. Courtesy: Galería Impakto, Lima

The fourth complex, Veritas nunquam perit (12 parts) —a voice in Latin that translates to ‘truth never expires’— oscillates between the image of an infinite library, on the one hand, and, again, the combinations of zones of color, under some frame perhaps suspended in time, which could well be a comment on Hard Edge paintings from the 1960s.

Finally, the fifth complex Let sleeping dogs lie, placed in a corner of the enclosure, changes the sign to all of the above; here this voice exhibits a sculptural scale that defines an effective realism. It is understood that this is the tip of the iceberg of other everyday objects that appear, such as a stool, candles, dice and playing cards, among others.

It is significant to know that this fifth complex, which represents two dogs joined together by a chain, is at the entrance of the exhibition, establishing, through the realism of their gestures and the appearance of tranquility (they are resting), a kind of aesthetic pact with the spectator who enters the enclosure, both on the natural scale and on the occasional ‘dramatic narrative’, perhaps on the meaning of stray dogs in Lima, or on elements of the game with Tarot cards and many other ways in which chance is introduced into the destinies of entities; determining, sometimes, their fortune; that is, if they will continue to live or if, on the contrary, death will come to collect them.

Ryan Brown, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, 2020. Courtesy: Galería Impakto, Lima

In Peru, between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Baroque, associated with the framing of vanitas as an allegory of how entities respond in the proximity of death, especially the human being, has been represented on different occasions in the paintings of the viceroyalty. Its aesthetics, in the Andean-Creole tradition, unlike how it is usually resorted to in the allegorical strategies of contemporary art, or even in globalized advertising, tends to tune in with some popular sense of the profusion of elements of the local chicha[1]aesthetics. By contrast, in Ryan’s allegorical proceedings, the void and not the profusion of elements; the realism and not the collection of symbols, are the ones that, through estrangement tactics, produce weightlessness and at the same time, distancing, in the face of a constellation of aesthetics that modernism, at the time, treasured, as a flight into the future. With this, he adopted a bundle of utopias, such as faith in progress and development, that the Covid-19 pandemic has put into question these days. Ryan’s voices and his complex furnishing, on the contrary, opens the sense to a reflective and at the same time emotional gaze, by letting the possible participants find their own voice to take part in this chorus whose unstable balance is hardly suggested.

[1] The chicha aesthetic refers to cultural processes in Peru, associated with migration from the countryside to the city. Its finish as a product, in an image, is usually overloaded with visual elements.

Pan, Pulso, Poder, by Ryan Brown, will remain open at Impakto Gallery, Lima, from August 26 to September 30, 2020

Augusto del Valle Cárdenas

Lambayeque, Perú, 1963. Crítico de arte y curador independiente. Licenciado en Filosofía por la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Entre sus curadurías más importantes se cuentan “La otra margen: Pintura geométrica en el Perú (1947-1958)” en el Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI), 2015; “Zona ciega: Aproximaciones a la vanguardia en el Perú (1975-1979)” en el Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano (ICPNA); “Expedición Amazonas”, en la galería Pancho Fierro de la Municipalidad de Lima, 2013; “Sabino Springett: los placeres de la imaginación”, 2013-2014, en el ICPNA; “Al ras del suelo, La imagen documental: Retrospectiva de Herman Schwarz”, 2012; “Gastón Garreaud, retrospectiva (1957 – 2005)”, 2008; “Urbe & Arte”, en el Museo de la Nación en Lima/Perú, 2006; y “Constelaciones”, 2006, en el MALI. Ha publicado, junto con otros autores, “Post-ilusiones/ Nuevas Visiones Arte Crítico en Lima (1980-2006)”, Lima, Fundación Wiese, 2007; “Memorias del Primer Coloquio Latinoamericano sobre Arte No Objetual y Arte Urbano”, con Víctor Manuel Manrique, Museo de Antioquia, Medellín, 2011; y el libro conmemorativo por el centenario de la ENSABAP, “Escuela Nacional Superior Autónoma de Bellas Artes del Perú (ENSABAP): Centenario (1918-2018)”. Actualmente es el Director del Museo de Arte de San Marcos.

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