Biography

‘There are key words which are important for me,’ Veronica Ryan (b. 1956, Plymouth, Montserrat) told historian Sheena Wagstaff in 1993, ‘residues, traces, memory, deposits.’ Since these early stages of her career, Ryan has mined these psychological repositories, reforming the uncovered psychological sediment into sculptural objects and assemblages that reflect the natural world around her. Making reference to fruits, seeds and vegetables, as well as the containers and modular units used to transport them, Ryan positions her work at the midpoint between oppositional principles: interior and exterior, absence and presence, material and object memory.

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Ryan’s interest in organic forms has remained constant since the 1980s. An early sculptural ensemble, Attempts to Fill Vacant Spaces (1986), comprises an octet of bronze pods nesting plaster flowers and husks; the Carrara marble block of Mango Reliquary (2000) is set with 20 mango stones covered in lead foil. For a forthcoming commission honouring the Windrush Generation, Ryan will create a series of marble and bronze sculptures depicting fruits and vegetables native to the Caribbean.

But while Ryan has frequently drawn upon this natural taxonomy, she has refused to define the specific connotations of such forms. Seed pods and fruits have been used interchangeably to allude to the historic circulation of produce and people; to cycles of life, death and rebirth; to concerns over environmental breakdown; as well as notions of personal history, intergenerational exchange and inherited trauma. Shack Shack (2018), a clutch of skeletal pods bound in fishing line, speaks to the acceptance of pain that recovery requires. Ryan’s works, writes Rachel Spence, ‘[are] so faithful to their physical roots yet resistant to obvious narratives.’

This fluidity of meaning is exemplary of the manner in which Ryan’s ideas float through her distinct bodies of work: everything is connected, all is in flux. (When discussing her broad practice, Ryan references the interconnectedness of root systems: ‘I think I have a subterranean way of thinking.’ ) It is for this reason that, even when Ryan reorients her focus from organic matter to man-made objects, she remains attentive to the residue and accretion of experienced life.

For ‘Compartments/Apart-ments’ (1992), Ryan’s 1995 exhibition at Camden Art Centre, London, and her first solo project since the birth of her daughters, she filled a series of cast baby-wipe boxes with an accumulation of hair, fingernails and dust. (Curator Natalie Rudd writes of this almost archaeological presentation as a ‘radical process of emptying out’ .) ‘The idea of containment and the container has been one of the essential concerns of my work’, Ryan notes, ‘capsules, divisions, compartments, all are metaphors for wider issues of dissociation, fracture, displacement, alienation’ .

In 2014, the 21 works that made up Ryan’s Camden Arts Centre exhibition were destroyed in a storage facility fire in London; Ryan described the erasure as a ‘rupture’. But ruptures can be resolved: for ‘Along a Spectrum’, Ryan’s 2021 survey at Spike Island, Bristol, certain conversations that were initiated at Camden were roused once more. For Holding Nets (2020-21), containers and paper plates were bound in netting and stored in a shelving unit; Not a Singularity (2020-21) saw doilies, orange peel, volcanic ash and other materials stacked around steel and glass tables. This subtle act, one of material and theoretical reconstitution, is indicative of Ryan’s broader process of dredging up and sifting through formative moments of lived history; of revisiting and learning from that which was lost – or that which lingers.

Ryan’s desire for order and resolution is evident in her tendency to stack, gather and bind objects together, as it is in such fabric works as Tidal (2020), Hang (2019) and Hung (2019). Ryan was first taught to sew by her mother, a skilled quiltmaker; now, she views the act of stitching as a means to metaphorically suture disconnected times. (‘The backstitch is a way to connect the past with the present’, she notes. ) But, as is often demonstrated by her work, reconciliation is complex: to stitch is to repair and puncture at once.

In a discussion with curator Jenni Lomax ahead of the exhibition ‘Donachie Rhodes Ryan’ at Freelands Foundation in 2019, Ryan spoke of her tendency to transport indiscriminate objects: ‘If you were to go through my bags, you would find all sorts of odd things: mango stones and some kind of date pit.’ She continued: ‘I’ve actually managed to germinate a date pit. […] I’m just excited about seeing whether it’s possible to germinate things outside of their natural climate.’

This curiosity over acclimatory responses to changing environments runs through Ryan’s practice as a whole: she positions personal objects, known forms and embedded memories within new contexts in order to assesses what they might become. It is a study of how things persist; how things develop; the sustenance they might one day provide. ‘I’ve always carried things around’, she says. ‘Heavy bags.’

  1. Veronica Ryan and Sheena Wagstaff, Veronica Ryan: The Wood Street Gallery, 1993, (Pittsburgh: Three Rivers Arts Festival, 1993)
  2. Rachel Spence, ‘Fruits of experience — the subtle work of Veronica Ryan’, Financial Times, 13 May 2021
  3. Conversation with Alison Jacques Gallery, 27 April 2021
  4. Natalie Rudd, ‘Attempts to Fill Vacant Spaces: The Early Work of Veronica Ryan’, Veronica Ryan: Along a Spectrum (Bristol: Spike Island, 2021), pp. 8–23, p.15
  5. Veronica Ryan, Compartments/Apart-ments (London: Camden Arts Centre, 1995) p.5
  6. Conversation with Alison Jacques Gallery
  7. ‘In Conversation with Veronica Ryan and Jenni Lomax’, Freelands Foundation, London, 9 July 2019

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Works

Magnolia / Magnoliaceae, 2021

Mixed media
Dimensions variable
Installation view, Hepworth Wakefield, 2021. Courtesy: Hepworth Wakefield © Veronica Ryan; photo: Nick Singleton

Niche, 1997

Apple packing trays and plaster
35.6 x 51 x 33 cm (14 x 20 x 13 in)
Courtesy: Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © Veronica Ryan

Drift Seeds, 2019–21

Crocheted fishing line, cotton, plaster, clay, seeds and fruit skins
Dimensions variable
Courtesy: Spike Island, Bristol, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and Alison Jacques, London © Veronica Ryan; photo: Max McClure

Pouch, 2020

Net, orange peels and thread
14 x 20 x 16 cm (5 1/2 x 7 7/8 x 6 3/8 in)
Courtesy: Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Alison Jacques, London © Veronica Ryan; photo: Max McClure

Liminal Spaces, Feathers In Her Head, Sewing Seeds 2, 2019

Mixed media
Dimensions variable
Courtesy: Henry Moore Institute and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © Veronica Ryan; photo: John McKenzie

Hang, 2020

Stained cotton sheet, avocado stones and hairbands
224 x 106 x 1.5 cm (88 1/4 x 41 3/4 x 5/8 in) – from museum to be checked!
Courtesy: Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Alison Jacques, London © Veronica Ryan; photo: Max McClure

Punnet II, 2020

Recycled containers and soursop skins
15 x 50 x 50 cm (6 x 19 5/8 x 19 5/8 in)
Courtesy: Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Alison Jacques, London © Veronica Ryan; photo: Max McClure

Transfix, 1998

Beeswax and pins
15.2 x 27.9 x 27.9 cm (6 x 11 x 11 in)
Courtesy: Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © Veronica Ryan

Montserrat Fragmentation, 1997

Apple Cushions, plaster and drawn line
51 x 35.6 x 15 cm (20 x 14 x 6 in)
Courtesy: Paula Cooper Gallery, New York © Veronica Ryan

Sewing Seeds, 2002–18

Mango seeds, plastic, tape, plastic net and elastic
12.7 x 12.7 x 12.7 cm (5 x 5 x 5 in)
Courtesy: Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Alison Jacques, London © Veronica Ryan

Stack, 2017

White pillows, plaster cast and fruit tray
Dimensions variable
Courtesy: The Art House, Wakefield © Veronica Ryan

Holding Stacks, 2020–21

Food containers, paper plates, soursop skins, bandage, net and other materials
Overall: 122 x 91.5 x 35 cm (48 1/8 x 36 1/8 x 13 3/4 in)
Courtesy: Spike Island, Bristol, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and Alison Jacques, London © Veronica Ryan; photo: Max McClure

Layered, Strata, 2017

Tie-dyed cushions and teal lino piece
Dimensions variable
Courtesy: The Art House, Wakefield © Veronica Ryan

Armour, Armature, 2017

Dexion shelving unit, stainless steel, curved cushions and welding rods
Dimensions variable
Courtesy: The Art House, Wakefield © Veronica Ryan

Protectors, 2017

Adapted Dexion shelving unit and quilted cushions
Dimensions variable
Courtesy: The Art House, Wakefield © Veronica Ryan; photo: Jules Lister

  • Magnolia / Magnoliaceae, 2021
  • Niche, 1997
  • Drift Seeds, 2019–21
  • Pouch, 2020
  • Liminal Spaces, Feathers In Her Head, Sewing Seeds 2, 2019
  • Hang, 2020
  • Punnet II, 2020
  • Transfix, 1998
  • Montserrat Fragmentation, 1997
  • Sewing Seeds, 2002–18
  • Stack, 2017
  • Holding Stacks, 2020–21
  • Layered, Strata, 2017
  • Armour, Armature, 2017
  • Protectors, 2017

Press

Veronica Ryan’s celebratory giant fruit are a lesson in how to do public sculpture well

Hettie Judah, The i newspaper

October 2021

The artist celebrating the Windrush generation

Ruby Tandoh, RA Magazine

September 2021

Veronica Ryan: Along a Spectrum

Kathryn Lloyd, Burlington Contemporary

August 2021

Veronica Ryan’s Botanical Musings on Migration

Anna Souter, Hyperallergic

July 2021

Veronica Ryan: Along a Spectrum

Hettie Judah, Art Monthly

July 2021

‘My parents’ trauma is my trauma’: Veronica Ryan on making first Windrush monument

Dale Berning Sawa, The Guardian

June 2021

The allusive sculptural work of Veronica Ryan

Imelda Barnard, ART UK

June 2021

Major Barbara Hepworth Exhibition Honours Pioneer of Modern Sculpture

Ruby Kitchen, The Yorkshire Post

May 2021

Veronica Ryan: ‘I don’t know anyone who makes art for art’s sake’

Louisa Buck, The Art Newspaper

May 2021

Sweeping survey to reveal the many sides of Barbara Hepworth

Chloë Ashby, The Art Newspaper

May 2021

Fruits of Experience: The Subtle Work of Veronica Ryan

Rachel Spence, Financial Times

May 2021

The Grand Reopening: The UK’s Best Exhibitions to See This Month

Hettie Judah, The i newspaper

May 2021

Technology drives the art trade

Melanie Gerlis, Financial Times

May 2021

The Best Public Art Shows to See this Year

frieze

April 2021

The grand reopening: our critics pick the best art shows for 2021

Kadish Morris, The Guardian

April 2021

Working Along a Spectrum: In Conversation with Veronica Ryan

Nancy Dewe Mathews, Focus

March 2021

What to Look Forward to in 2021

Amy Sherlock, frieze

January 2021

Hackney Council commissions Artworks to Commemorate Windrush

Emily Dinsdale, Dazed

June 2020

New London Sculptures Will Honour The Windrush Generation

Alice Cary, Vogue

June 2020

Sculptures Honouring UK’s Caribbean Immigrants to Be Unveiled

Gareth Harris, The Art Newspaper

June 2020

Sculptures honouring Windrush generation to be unveiled in London in 2021

Lanre Bakare, The Guardian

June 2020

The Must-See Exhibitions in New York This Autumn

Evan Moffitt, frieze

September 2019

After a Century of British Art Was Destroyed, This Artist Is Recreating Her Lost Works

Daisy Bernard, MutualArt

January 2019

Veronica Ryan: ‘I’m interested in the semantics of perception’

Veronica Simpson, Studio International

December 2017

Books

Veronica Ryan: Along a Spectrum

Spike Island, Bristol

2021

News

Veronica Ryan

Hackney Windrush Commission

Lygia Clark & Veronica Ryan

in ‘Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945’, Arts Council Collection Touring Exhibition, UK

Veronica Ryan

in ‘Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life’, The Hepworth Wakefield

Veronica Ryan: Along a Spectrum

Spike Island, Bristol

Veronica Ryan

in ‘Portable Sculpture’, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

Veronica Ryan awarded OBE

The British artist has been named in the Queen’s birthday honours list recognising outstanding achievement

Veronica Ryan Appears on BBC Radio 3

Ryan features alongside Shahidha Bari, Jennifer Higgie, Adjoa Osei and Lydia Yee on ‘Free Thinking’

Alison Jacques Gallery Now Represents Veronica Ryan

The British artist’s inaugural exhibition will open in Summer 2022

Tate Acquires Veronica Ryan Work

Sculpture purchased at Frieze London thanks to Endeavor fund

Veronica Ryan in conversation with Danielle Radojcin

The Collector’s House Podcast

Veronica Ryan

in ‘Donachie Rhodes Ryan’, Freelands Foundation, London

Video

Veronica Ryan: Along a Spectrum at Spike Island