When the CEO of the interactive design and research firm Christine Guillot Ryan worked at as a graphic designer told her she was being laid off, Ryan hugged him.
It was an unusual response for someone losing a nearly six-figure salary, but Ryan knew this was the opportunity she had been looking for to swap an office for a home art studio.
Ryan’s latest exhibit of work, “Fairytales & Finances,” explores her feelings toward money following that moment in 2009. It also touches on what it felt like for her — a Type A workhorse who sourced her self-worth from her career’s success — to be underemployed.
“I feel like I had been mortgaging my soul by not making art,” Ryan said. “But the idea of being without material attachment is terrifying. To say the material is not important isn’t valid either.”
A self-described maximalist, Ryan’s mixed media modular paintings look rather simple from far away but up-close turn into a cacophonous forest of manipulated images designed by Ryan, strips of magazine advertisements, cutouts of princesses from old books, Xeroxes of blown-up dollar bills and painted outlines of various items that are familiar but abstract (Barbie dolls, hands, LEGO toys).
A common theme is strips of paper attached to the painting to look like bars of a business chart and simultaneously like stalks of grass. Sometimes they look like prison window bars. The subject matter in all of them is meaningful to the theme if you inspect carefully — like the ironically worded “Chase Freedom” mailing.
The idea is that simplicity can be found in accepting complexity; that dichotomies are only threatening if you let them be.
“The only thing that scares me more than financial insecurity is bare gallery walls,” Ryan said. “This is the work that makes me feel like I’m doing what I should be doing.”
She needn’t say as much. Her new car license plate could do all the talking. It reads, “Play Now.”