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The journey from inspiration to artistic expression can be a winding path—or, in the case of Studio Views, the solo exhibition by New York-based graphic artist Ryan McGinness on view at Cranbrook Art Museum through March 18th, a literal maze. The wall of the main gallery is lined with large-scale canvases, but the rest of the space is occupied by a hedge maze constructed from the screens that McGinness used to create his layered screenprints.

“The exhibition is called Studio Views, and that’s exactly what we’re looking at,” said McGinness of the extremely colorful and graphic iconography in each piece that is his visual signature. “These are the floors, these are my actual tools in the studio. So it’s all a self-portrait.” The wooden floorboards seen throughout the show are a motif that makes its debut in these works. 

McGinnise2Photo by PD Rearick

How did he recreate his New York City studio in Bloomfield Hills? 

“What I did was photograph sections of my floor, and then redrew the planks as separate elements, and then recombined all those planks from a set of about 50,” McGuinness explained. “The point being that they’re based on real planks, a real floor, and from that I developed a symbolic floor.” 

This translation of real-world objects and points of inspiration into visual symbols is McGinness’s stock and trade, and embedded within all of the new pieces in Studio Views are paintings-within-paintings that feature his recurring motifs: chains, mother and child, skateboard decks, nude figures, and an ever-growing set of icons that are as visually specific as they are mysterious. 

McGinness has added a layer here, contextualizing his existing imagery within a matrix of visual infrastructure; in addition to the new motif of the floors, which appear in every canvas and serve as a stage for all that happens above them, there are sawhorses, squeegees, and canvases laid out horizontally, demonstrating the manner in which McGinness paints, as well as on display to the viewer from the studio walls. McGinness adds each individual element to his images via separate screens, meaning that each canvas contains dozens upon dozens of individual layers. 

RMG2Ryan McGinness, courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp“It’s hard to quantify—each piece has its own screen, and then they may be doubled or tripled in different colors, offset, or fragmented,” said McGinness, who describes his process as intuitive, building up the elements as he goes, rather than laying out a plan ahead of time. With so many little elements compiled into a new work, one senses that his internal process is very much like the physical maze he has created for visitors to navigate. Those that brave the maze will find trophies made out of the squeegees used to pull ink through the screens to make the prints, as well as a trio of wigs created out of McGinness’s own hair. 

While McGinness takes great time and care to submerge Cranbrook Art Museum visitors into his artistic process, in an adjacent gallery he connects his work more directly to objects museum-goers may already have some familiarity with.

“Since we don’t have a permanent collection gallery, in the fall we usually show something from our permanent collection, to show that off,” said Cranbrook Art Museum Director Andrew Blauvelt of the companion show, Collection Views. “And since Ryan has this background in this iconography and symbols, we asked him to mine our collection to create a new set of icons.” 

McGinness chose a group of 10 art, design, and natural history objects, and used them as the inspiration for a set of 18 new icons. The original objects are on display as well as his final iconography, and some of McGinness’s process drawings, which trace the progression from inspiration, through abstraction, and final output. 

“Ryan picked some very disparate objects,” said Cranbrook’s senior curator Laura Mott, who worked closely with McGinness in the development and execution of both shows. “Then he distilled it into a series of process drawings—Ryan is known for this distillation process, the iconography.” The drawings are on display, filling in the usually invisible process between inspiration and creation developed in conversation with Cranbrook’s collection. 

Front and center in this gallery is an evocative and strange sculptural work, The Hunter (2002) by Tony Matelli. The sculpture features a detailed, slightly larger than life-sized approximation of its maker, dressed in red long johns and surrounded by foliage in what seems to be a forest. His hand is lifted to his face and he appears to be smelling his own finger. In his response piece, McGinness has boiled down that single, suggestively poised hand—blown up large in icon form on an adjacent wall.

“This is a great example, because I know Tony and I love his work—and he went here, so there’s a great connection—all those factors contributed to me choosing this piece,” said McGinness. “And I just think it’s weird. And I think it’s all about the hand, that gesture.” 

“There’s so much detail and density to the production [of Matelli’s sculpture],” said Mott, “to take it to the hand is so simple, and it has a gracefulness to it.” 

This pair of shows are not just colorful, engaging, and fun—they are the rare peek into a deep and multi-layered process. By mounting Studio Views at Cranbrook, Mott and McGinness have scratched the surface of complex works to reveal even greater complexity.  

McGinnis1Photo by PD Rearick

Ryan McGinness: Studio Views and Collection Views are on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum through March 18, 2018. Wayfinding: An Art Installation + Skate Park by Ryan McGinness and Tony Hawk is open in downtown Detroit through December 31, 2017.