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Western professor puts on art exhibition in Pioneer Square

By Kiahna White-Alcain

METHOD gallery in Pioneer Square is currently showcasing a solo exhibition created by Ryan Kelly, an assistant professor of art at Western who specifically teaches ceramics and foundations. Kelly’s work will be showcased in the gallery until Saturday, Feb. 15. 

“It’s very competitive to get into a gallery in Seattle,” Julia Sapin, a professor of art history and chair of the department, said. “There are so many artists in Seattle itself and there are a lot of people who have roots there with well-established connections.” 

METHOD’s mission is to foster and exhibit sculptures and installations that regards process, material and concepts while engaging the gallery space, Paul McKee, one of the co-founders of METHOD, said. The gallery is a non-commercial, nonprofit space with two co-founders and some volunteers who work for free, according to McKee. 

“It’s a labor of love to get this style of installation work out there,” McKee said. 

Founded in 2013, METHOD is a nonprofit, volunteer artist-run exhibition space that exhibits art that is experimental, forward-thinking, unconventional and predominantly based in sculpture, installation, new media and/or performance. 

METHOD only showcases one full, in-depth exhibition at a time, usually for about a nine-week period. A solo show allows the artist to transform the space, McKee said. 

METHOD is selective when it comes to the art that is presented in the gallery, McKee said, and only profiles artists from the Pacific Northwest. 

“We tend to look for someone who pushes the boundaries of what an installation or exhibition looks like,” McKee said. “One of the things that stood out for me with [Kelly] was the craftsmanship, the larger than life parts of his work.” 

Kelly creates work that needs to be talked about, McKee said. 

Every other year or so, METHOD makes a call for artists or art to be showcased, McKee said. Usually, they look for artists in an underserved community who deserve more recognition, he said. 

“There was a call for applications for proposals,” Sapid said. “[Kelly] submitted a proposal where it was juried by a group of artists and he was accepted. What his entire work is about needs to be talked about.”

Kelly said he made an installation similar to a papier-mâché head, representing himself. The head is facing a set of bleachers that have three risers, between them are three to four papier-mâché heads of animals or characters. 

“What I’ve made is an oversized self-portrait,” Kelly said. “It’s like a hand puppet, almost.” 

The idea was that one self-portrait puppet can switch heads with each other, acting like alter egos, Kelly said. 

Kelly makes a lot of representations, like faces or identifiable things from the real world, he said. He described this exhibit as a “weird dreamscape.” 

Kelly said he started his exhibition over the summer in 2019, although a vast majority of it was made from September through December on top of a full-time teaching job. 

Kelly had his first real solo show in 2003 after he built up a body of work over a year. When he finished his undergraduate program, he was a resident artist at Baltimore Clayworks where he was given the studio space to do so, he said. 

“It feels really good [to have work shown in a gallery],” Kelly said. “I’ve been trying to make connections in Seattle and while I’ve had a couple of people in group shows, this feels really good to have a solo show in Pioneer Square where a lot of galleries are centered.” 

Kelly has been at Western for four and a half years, since fall 2016, Sapin said. 

“The thing that’s really impressive about the show for Ryan Kelly is the fact that he’s been able to establish himself in Seattle in a relatively short period of time,” Sapin said.
Kelly said he’d been going to Seattle and looking online for opportunities when METHOD had a calling. He answered the call. 

Hafthor Yngvason, the director at the Western Gallery on campus is familiar with Kelly’s work and said it was one of the most exciting pieces in Seattle. 

“Ryan Kelly has a very whimsical approach to art,” Yngvason said. “It makes you happy.” 

Kelly described his artistic style in three ways. 

“There are the materials, the way I handle the materials and the subject matter,” Kelly said. “I like to think there is an accessible quality in all of those.” 

Kelly uses accessible materials like papier-mâché, clay and wood, then manipulates them by creating reputational imagery. 

“I like to think that the style in which I represent is cartoony or stylistically approachable,” Kelly said. “I like to think that people that come to my shows are greeted with something that’s both visually and conceptually engaging, joyful or funny. I want to make people happy.”

Sapin said how important it is for artists to have their work published and appreciated. 

“I believe that exposure to our work and thinking about it brings a completely different dimension to our lives,” Sapin said. “If you see an image, it can really strike you in a certain way that stimulates you to become interested.” 

Not everyone has a special purpose, Kelly said, but we all have an idea as to what we are good at. 

“While I could’ve gone into academia or any other realm, I’m not suited for the business world,” Kelly said. “Being in a creative field has always felt like a perfect home.” 

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