The concept for artist Linda Ryan’s most recent installation began evolving more than three decades ago.
Ryan’s final show in graduate school referenced stairs and a doorway “through which one can pass, regardless of obstacles,” she said. A tiny chair of crystals hung above the installation piece.
A chair features largely in her latest show, where a white papier-mache chair towers at least 12 feet above a circle of white silica sand — 400 pounds worth — in the center of the Goodstein Gallery at Casper College. Shattered windshield glass rings the chair.
“God’s Empty Chair” is Ryan’s first exhibition since retiring in May after 35 years of teaching sculpture, jewelry, casting and several other art classes at the college. The show opened Aug. 28, and the college will host a public reception with the artist on Thursday. Two more of her installations are permanent fixtures at the college: “Spirit House,” which is on display in the Casper College Dornbos Lounge, and her Foucault pendulum, which hangs in the Physical Science building.
The minimalist “God’s Empty Chair” is meant to be provocative and for viewers to feel a sense of the ephemeral and unknown, according to her artist statement posted in the gallery door.
“Is it about abandonment, inclusion, or perhaps something else?” the statement muses.
Ryan’s art focuses on the process, and the current exhibition shows her love of diverse materials. The installation gave her the opportunity to explore building the chair with papier mache and create from copper, sand, fabric and broken windshield glass.
Her work has been exhibited in the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper and galleries around the country. She taught for 35 years at Casper College, seven of them as the visual arts program director, according to her artist bio. It was working and interacting with students that she found most fulfilling about teaching.
“If you want to learn something, teach it,” Ryan said. “The students have taught me a lot.”
Ryan’s ideas tend to come to her intuitively — even in her sleep. She once awoke in the middle of the night and decided that the chair didn’t need to reach the ceiling, as she’d originally planned. Instead, she would add pieces of copper-coated metal rising from the back of the chair.
“I’m very much a process person, so I pay really close attention to how the piece is reading; I pay attention to scale, and I was paying attention to materials and color and texture. And when I realized it wasn’t going to be that big, it was a risk,” Ryan said. “I woke up from almost, I guess you’d call it a dream state, knowing that I needed copper on the chair to help transition it.”
Copper strapping also holds the top of four fabric sheets, each embroidered with one of the Four Immeasurables of Buddhist tradition.
It wasn’t intentional that the fabric reference Buddhist prayer flags, but it was a byproduct of her intuitive process, she said.
Ryan invites viewers to explore their own thoughts as they take in the show. As Ryan often told her students, she believes that really good art asks questions, it doesn’t answer them.
“Partly I want the viewer to come in and have some interaction and give me some observation,” she said. “Maybe it’s more of an open-ended question.”