We may not notice how important stories are to us. Sometimes we come home from a day of work and tell our loved ones about our daily grind. Some of us sit in dark bars and spew our sorrows to our best friends – or whichever stranger will listen. Or maybe we live inside of our heads, playing out what see and feel on pieces of paper. Sharing ourselves is an integral part of the human experience. Everyone tells stories.
Ryan Metke, the Greenpoint-based artist, takes those stories, whether his own or others, and creates tangible interactions. He presses others to participate in the creation of those stories by involving his audience, asking them to step beyond the passive role of perceiver and inviting them to participate in the story unfolding in front of them. Metke says, “My paintings are a topographical collage of the human senses. I make maps, the imagery acts as metaphors creating a dialogue within the canvas.”
Painting massive works that dominate even the loftiest of walls and installing pieces throughout the city and maybe soon throughout the world, Metke’s work is pervasive. Through this pervasiveness, Metke allows us to insert ourselves into his own meticulously constructed narratives. Permitting us to make what we perceive our own.
From foxhunts, to time capsules, to pirates and Mayan culture; Metke dabbles in an impressive range of subject matter. In his own words, “It is my personal mission to explore and evolve with every piece I do. Whether it be a painting, sculpture or installation I feel that there is a definite perpetual voice in my work which all speaks to the bigger picture.”
Metke’s self-awareness and his empathy for others permit him to open his mind to this array of subject matters. Just as Metke wants others to participate in his finished product, he also relies on them to create his stories. Not to say that he doesn’t create from within; much of his subject matter and symbolism manifests from his previous life experiences. Metke takes the inspiration from his own life and combines it with what he learns from those around him. Whether learning through human experience or being captivated by fantastical stories of the past, he takes tiny pieces of what he encounters and creates a story. Each chunk of his flurried paintings and installations holds a specific meaning. No part is lifeless or trivial. Every symbol carries purpose, completing the story unwinding before us. But, Metke doesn’t corner us into a singular idea of what his art should represent. We’re allowed to choose what we see and use our own insight to create a truly unique experience. It doesn’t matter if I see a map, and you a comic strip, or Metke sees simply a year’s worth of paint caked onto a canvas. What Metke makes is his, but he makes it ours as well.
Metke’s aim, then, is to do more than just create visual stimulation. “I feel that the viewer is just as important as the creator, I encourage participation. I feel that my paintings are interpretable and each of you could tell 100 stories.”
Working on an impressively massive scale allows Metke to grab our attention. We may be awed by the size of his paintings or the reach of his installations, but still captivated by our ability to identify with what we see. Metke’s humility makes it easy for us to become involved in his work. The lack of pretention or rigid idealism permits anyone to find something they can identify with. Metke begins stories for us, but asks us to finish them.
Whether we’re finding our way through treasure maps, avoiding wasp’s nests, envisioning our own story on a canvas, or pulling sealed bottles out of the East River, Metke calls upon us to participate in his work, all in hope that he will reach someone, sometime. At times, we may be urged to come up with our interpretation of what we see before us, assigning our own personal meaning to every square inch of a painting. At others we may stumble upon some obscure treasure, unknowingly becoming involved in Metke’s tale. Either way, we are pushed into an experience, changing our point of view and creating a memory.
Click here to see more of Metke’s work.