I came to Joshua Tree in February 2015, for what was supposed to be a 3 month stay, but the positive effect the desert had on my work and on me was undeniable, and I decided to remain. I gave up my studio and apartment in Brooklyn, and moved out here permanently in May of 2015.
My studio here is an open air barn. While I paint, around me is a 360-degree view of open desert, called the Hondo Wash. All day as I work, I encounter rabbits, hawks, crows, lizards, road runners, snakes, desert tortoises, bobcats, and bats. At night I hear owls outside the studio and coyotes howling. This land and the life in it has changed me and my paintings.
I consider my subjects to be something in the ether, the formless, a presence that is felt rather than directly seen. In these paintings I attempt to capture this presence. Perhaps not what it looks like, but what it feels like. The animals find their way into my paintings both as interesting forms and as messengers from other realms. In Native American stories, the owl and the coyote are seen as shape shifters, animals that can travel freely between the physical world and the spirit world, who come to humans as messengers and tricksters. Walking in the desert I have seen coyotes seemingly gather form out of nothing and cross my path. They are such a part of the land, they blend in and become it. Their howl is beautiful, terrifying, and oddly comforting at night. I have felt owls swoop just above my head when walking between my house and studio, they hoot in a eucalyptus tree there. When there is no moon, the darkness here is the thickest black I have ever seen. When the moon is full, it reflects off of the sand and illuminates the entire landscape. It's blindingly bright and can wake me out of a dead sleep.
Everything is extreme here. The lightening is long and powerful and flashes for hours. You can feel the electricity on your lips. The wind is thunderous, constant, frustratingly strong, it shakes the studio insanely while I paint, and makes everything dance and thrash about. The winter nights are bone cold and can cut you in two. In the spring, the desert blooms and becomes a sea of strange colors.
The cactuses and legendary Joshua trees open up with alien flowers and seed pods. The thousand-year-old creosote bush gives off a tarry, sweet smell. In the summer, the heat is inescapable and debilitating. The sun feels as though it's cooking your face. It's the most oppressive thing I've ever felt, but there is an odd satisfaction in it: all you can do is surrender. My practice here is entirely shaped by the elements. I am a small speck in the face of nature, it has all the power.
There are many layers to these paintings. Many things I wanted to capture. Emptiness and fullness. Light. Night. Distance. The feeling of hugeness. The wildness around me. A communion with flora and fauna. The color. The feeling of belonging to the land rather than it belonging to me. The feeling of being completely alone. A feeling of great openness.
Ryan Schneider, Sep. 18 2016
Ryan Schneider (b.1980, Indianapolis, IN) received his BFA from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in 2002. Schneider has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide, including “You Are Entering," a recent solo exhibition at Richard Heller Gallery, Los Angeles. Recent group exhibitions include “A Verdant Summer” at Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York, “Media”, at Galleri Jacob Bjørn, Aarhus, Denmark, and “Et Brask Spark”- selections from the collection of Jens Peter Brask, at the Munkeruphus Museum, Denmark. Schneider’s work has been featured in the Brask Studio Visits book, Whitewall Magazine, Modern Painters, ArtNet, The New Yorker, Art in America, The Brooklyn Rail, ArtInfo, New American Paintings, Art F City, and Brask Art Blog. Ryan’s works are in the Andrew Hall Art Collection in Reading, VT and the Brask Collection in Copenhagen, Denmark. Schneider lives and works in Joshua Tree, CA.