Ryan McEwen‘s Facebook profile picture is the red-and-yellow outline of a person, one hand draped over a book, the other propped under their chin. This person is vibrantly outlined yet hollowed — the tree they’re lying against, and swirling patterns on the tree, can be seen through the person’s abdomen. The scenery is overlaid with a series of colorful patterns that are distinct from their surroundings, yet still connected to the overall shape of the trees, sky, and grass. The connection feels almost rhythmic, like a synaesthetic daydream, where patterns appear to be pulsating off the objects around them. The person by the tree, mostly amorphous and suspended in boldly colorful abstraction, appears calm, even contemplative.
Clicking through McEwen’s Facebook, the primary way to view his work, there are many similar pieces — flowing, unbroken lines that curl across the width of the canvas. Inspired since high school by Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher, McEwen is captivated by surrealism and mathematical repetitions, such as the reoccurrence of the Fibonacci sequence in nature. “The most beautiful things are soft, flowing curves… the growth of a flower, a hurricane on a satellite, a spiral galaxy,” he explains. However, there are also photorealistic paintings, graffitti art of monochromatic patterns, and chalk art reminiscent of art nouveau. One of his most poignant paintings, a woman on a sailboat at sunset, is almost indistinguishable from the photograph it is based on. His style largely depends on the piece, and his emotion about the subject. He draws inspiration from artists such as Alphonse Mucha, William Adolphe Bougereau, and David Walker. McEwen also finds the beauty in everyday objects and attempts to capture them, or tweak them to their ultimate aesthetic potential. He describes himself as someone who will rearrange a flower bouquet in someone’s living room to make it look more pleasing.
McEwen describes one of his earliest memories as being about making art. It was ’86, he was three years old, and his family had just bought their first VCR player. He recalls drawing Indiana Jones after they watched the Temple of Doom. McEwen is self-taught, aside from classes in high school. “I remember each one of my art teachers I had growing up. Each one of them certainly gave me attention and supported all of my efforts. Having said that, I have to mention my family. My parents and siblings always encouraged and promoted me,” he explains of his training. His first painting was a surrealist piece, which he gifted to his brother.
McEwen has grown in popularity through word-of-mouth and his Facebook postings. He has accepted commissions, but he typically creates pieces either for himself or as gifts for his loved ones. He explains that fame and money are not what his art is trying to accomplish; it is more important is to have meaningful connections, to make someone smile. When asked about his mission, he says, “Humbly, I feel like I do have something to offer the world. I never really feel like I’m competing with anyone or anyone’s art directly, except for myself. I’m always trying to top myself, with every new project.”