Stephanie J. Ryan, portraits of family gatherings
“To keep silent too long is like letting water stagnate so that it rots.”
–AUGUST STRINDBERG, The Ghost Sonata
This work represents a continuation of my interest in the psychodynamics of the family, as “the aggregate of motivational forces, both conscious and unconscious, that determine human behavior and attitudes.”
But more to the point, my interest is in the stories that families tell themselves and others, and in the contrast between the public face and the private face. I am interested in the ghosts that walk in all of us; the secrets that family members keep from one another or refuse to acknowledge; the stories that are revised, shifted, changed, modified as they are told and retold around the table, especially during the holidays.
Family secrets can spread across generations like a stain, disappearing perhaps for awhile, and then reappearing unexpectedly, but persisting, and often blooming; changing over time.
These paintings are derived from family photographs, and stories, woven together with appropriated images from popular culture and other sources, modified and re-told. While they may represent a personal family history, they also may represent any family whose history contains issues, questions, and secrets left unaddressed and moldering for whatever reason.
To paint from family photos is an exercise in reclaiming power over the past—a re-creation of the family and the house in perfect miniature. Like a child playing with a doll’s house, I have the power to rearrange things, to alter the figures slightly, to add or subtract information, as a way of dialoguing with the past and perhaps dispelling the ghosts by asking them to speak once more.
Stephanie J. Ryan