Finding Form in Function: Ryan Blackwell “Deviant Consumerism”

Ryan Blackwell, “Table Top & Composite Shims in Two Thin Sections,” 2013, modified hollow core furniture, composite shim, me ding plates, graphite, hardware, 47.25 x 8 x 1.5 inches, “Twelve Table Legs (Black and White),” 2013, modified hollow core furniture, mending plates, graphite, hardware, 48 x 8 x 2 inches, All Photos by Bart Kosc

Ryan Blackwell, “Table Top & Composite Shims in Two Thin Sections,” 2013, modified hollow core furniture, composite shim, me ding plates, graphite, hardware, 47.25 x 8 x 1.5 inches, “Twelve Table Legs (Black and White),” 2013, modified hollow core furniture, mending plates, graphite, hardware, 48 x 8 x 2 inches, All Photos by Bart Kosc

Pop Art-Star Andy Warhol rejoiced the aesthetic value of commodities—no manipulation, merely proclaiming its uselessness transformed brillo boxes into Brillo Boxes (1964). Fast-track to today, looking good is just as important for products as it is for mingling Bushwick socialites. The plethora of products, the multiplicity of commodities, wages a war in the name of quality despite quantity. A fine line divides beautiful design and beauty for its own right. In the name of art, the diverging point is its purpose for the people—its useful, or useless-ness.

For contemporary artist Ryan Blackwell, making useful products useless does not denounce their existence, but uplifts their function to the realm of the aesthetic. Blackwell transposes the ubiquitous into the extraordinary in his solo exhibition Deviant Consumerism at Bushwick Coopertive. “Meaning in art is through the material,” Blackwell explained, and through minimal manipulation he is able to uncover the artfulness of commodities.

On view are works from two series where Blackwell re-purposes expendable products. His wall reliefs of Ikea Furniture parts revive disposable relics by unearthing the hidden beauty within the materials. Not that we never fawn over a majestic Ikea storeroom. A pilgrimage to the Mecca of affordable home shopping, however, coincides with our desire to use these products. Blackwell does the opposite—he goes to the purgatory of Ikea—the ‘As Is’ section—and wades through the River Styx to appropriate these banished malfunctions to their rightful glory as aesthetic objects on display.

Bushwick Daily columnist Erin Wicks in front of Ryan Blackwell, “End Table in Two Sections,” 2013, modified hollow core furniture, mending plates, graphite, hardware, 21.5 x 13.5 x 6 inches

Bushwick Daily columnist Erin Wicks in front of Ryan Blackwell, “End Table in Two Sections,” 2013, modified hollow core furniture, mending plates, graphite, hardware, 21.5 x 13.5 x 6 inches

Table tops, shims, table legs, and end tables are so removed from their furniture functions that their colorful, undulating, or geometric shapes are appreciated for their simplistic forms. In Table Top & Composite Shim in Two Thin Sections the modified hollow core is exposed from the elongated green lines traversing down the wall. Twelve Table Legs (Black and White) turns systems of support into a thoughtful minimalist sculpture—its stoic black and white grid and considerate placement of hardware thoughtfully juxtaposes color planes with nostalgic moments of its functional past.

Installation view, Ryan Blackwell, Paper Towel drawings, 2014

Installation view, Ryan Blackwell, Paper Towel drawings, 2014

Blackwell’s most recent series are his delicate dot drawings on sheets of paper towels. From mass-produced products to personalized artworks, Blackwell alters overlooked nuances into pensive dot-drawings dedicated to a ritualistic repetition of minimalist form. The many recesses in paper towels function as pockets to absorb spills or break down stains. Blackwell uplifts meditative patterns from these cavities and re-purposes these designs for their form rather than function. From multiples among many to individuals, the paper towel is no longer a tool for Spring Cleaning but an artful conquest of form.

Blackwell’s solo exhibition Deviant Consumerism is the first show of this expanding gallery, design and craft store off the Myrtle L Stop. Bushwick Cooperative was started by John Gilliland as a way to engage the many talented people he has met over the years. He enlisted the expertise of Jennifer Waverek to curate art exhibitions and the design shop. Stop by this Jefferson Ave. storefront to see Blackwell’s show and pick up some great crafts Thursdays and Fridays, 3:00-8:00 p.m. or on the weekends from 12:00-5:00 p.m.

Writer Danielle Kalamaras and artist Ryan Blackwell

Writer Danielle Kalamaras and artist Ryan Blackwell

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2 comments

  1. erickuns · February 25, 2014

    The best thing about his work is that it can be reproduced by Ikea on the cheap, and be sold on a mass scale as “Ikea Fine Art” that will go perfectly with one’s Ikea-decorated apartment. It takes “looking good over the couch” to a whole new level.

    • Becoming Middlebrow · February 25, 2014

      That is a perfect description of Blackwell’s art. Thank you for your thoughtful insight Eric!

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