Arcadia Exhibitions Presents: abbey ryan: the light / the shade

By Caitlin Burns | April 19, 2018

A still life by Abbey Ryan (2017)

A gallery talk by the artist will be held on April 19 in the Harrison Gallery beginning at 4 p.m. with a reception to follow.

Arcadia University’s Art Research Collaboration (ARC) Exhibition Program is pleased to present “abbey ryan: the light / the shade,” an exhibition of recent paintings on display from April 16 through June 16 in the Harrison Gallery on the first level of the University Commons.

For Ryan, an associate professor at Arcadia and 2003 alumna of the University recognized for her daily practice of painting, this exhibition of 14 landscapes and still lifes in oil on linen represents the culmination of a 2017 research excursion to the Greek island of Patmos. This remote destination, known for its pure light, harsh terrain, and lack of shade, served as the longtime home of the American poet Robert Lax (1915-2000), whose singular form of minimalist poetry and seemingly solitary existence inspired Ryan to start the light / the shade series in 2012.

Executed either during Ryan’s travels, or inspired by her related research, these postcard sized images depict native fish and fruit as well as island views, some reflected in or framed by windows and doors. Acute to the paradoxes of illumination and rendered in an economical but expressive hand, the paintings are presented alongside passages from Lax’s book-length poem the light / the shade (1989) set in grey type adhered to walls painted deep blue. Distinguished by their vertical format in which each line is comprised of a single syllable, these short texts parse language into its elemental components to explore contrasts regarding light and time, seeing and being. They are simultaneously abstract and descriptive, visual and verbal. The resulting connections established between these meditative paintings and poems are further supported by a network of personal and historic associations.  

Ryan’s research was undertaken as Arcadia’s first recipient of the Dr. Norman Johnston Faculty Fellowship in the Humanities and Social Sciences awarded by Arcadia University, to encourage talented and dedicated faculty members to excel in research in the humanities and social sciences and to share their scholarship with the University community. Dr. Johnston’s work on the evolution of prison architecture, specifically his study of monastic life as a model for solitary confinement, also informed Ryan’s project.

About the artist:  Abbey Ryan has exhibited in juried and solo exhibitions at venues such as Rockwell Museum, NY; Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, CA; Tucson Art Museum; John F. Peto Museum, NJ; Huntsville Museum of Art, AL; Blutenweiss Gallery, Berlin; Salmagundi Club, NY; Pratt MWP Institute, NY; Art Basel, Miami; Georgetown Art Center, TX; Cedar Crest College; Boston Center for the Arts, and others. Philadelphia venues include Fleisher Art Memorial; Crane Arts; Mount Airy Contemporary; Marginal Utility (in conjunction with CITYWIDE, Philadelphia Museum of Art); Painted Bride Art Center; Wayne Art Center; and Penn State Abington. She is a grant recipient from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Edward Albee Foundation, Sam and Adele Golden Foundation, and Monmouth Museum. In 2007 Ryan began making “A Painting a Day” for her blog, Ryan Studio. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?, FOX’s Good Day Philadelphia, BoingBoing, Artists & Illustrators, Making It In the Art World, New Markets For Artists, Fine Art Connoisseur, American Art Collector, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yale Radio, and many others. Ryan’s work is in over 1,300 private and museum collections on six continents. With 35,000 followers, her blog has had over a million visitors from more than 100 countries. Ryan earned her M.F.A. from Hunter College, CUNY in 2007. She studied with David Leffel at The Art Students League of New York and graduate work at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is currently represented by Gleason Fine Art, Portland, Maine.

On April 19 at 4 p.m., Ryan will give a talk in the exhibition space which will encompass the creation of the paintings in the show, her experiences on Patmos, as well as elaborating further on her views concerning the connections between Lax’s writings, Johnston’s research, and her own artistic practice. A reception will follow immediately afterwards in the Harrison Gallery.

The exhibition and the lecture are free and open to the public.

“abbey ryan: the light / the shade” was curated by Matthew Borgen and was made possible by a donation from Theresa and John Rollins. For more information about the exhibition, please contact the ARC Exhibition Program at (215) ­517­2629 or

Gallery Hours: Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.