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5 Creative Questions with… Ben Ryan

I dreamed of attending Hamley Studio of Fine Art; it looked just the way a fine art studio should look in all the pictures I saw. As one reviewer has gushed, 'this is undoubtedly the conservatorium of music for art.' I knew it was run by Sally and Ben Ryan and I knew who they were and what they had achieved - that they had both studied at Julian Ashton, that they were selected as finalists last year in the Archibald Prize and the Hornsby Art Prize respectively. (I also had an artwork in the Hornsby Art Prize last year - 'Some of my best friends').

Art and music are commonly compared and I saw them as the most classical of classical violinists, like world-class soloists who play Paganini. I was a little worried they would be intimidating teachers, in the manner of old-school ballet masters. But when I attended a January workshop, for I had a little prizemoney from the Reimagine Art Prize to spend, this was far from the case. Both were wry and funny, both had astonishing technical skills but were also able to explain their disciplined, sharp approach very well, and both were kind when giving feedback. They tag-teamed: Ben showed how to lay on a highlight as thick as strawberry icing; Sally helped smooth it out. Ben explained that connectedness was important and encouraged me to think of a painting as a whole; Sally sat in front of me, demonstrating that. Ben patiently taught me, a complete oil painting novice, how to clean the brushes. Sally asked jovially, "Are you eating the paint?" (it was all over my face).

Ben Ryan's lockdown self-portrait. Image: supplied

Ben Ryan is the 24th in my series of creatives to take five questions.

When my creative process is stuck, I reach for... whatever’s next to me, chuck it in a corner and paint that – even if no one ever sees it. I don’t really know what my creative process is, or what a creative process is supposed to look like, but I would feel too much guilt if I had the time for being creative and let myself be stuck for very long. Maybe it’s like if a composer didn’t feel up to working on their piano sonata one day so they just played scales instead – you’re still working at something.

The weirdest thing about being a creative human is... the interminable desire to keep doing something that is almost entirely useless. I’m not saying being creative is useless, but an oil painter is probably not the first person you’d choose if you were picking useful people to establish a new society on Mars or whatever. And yet I devote my everything to making little pictures with my paints and I am not capable of thinking of anything else for very long.

'Exposed Bone' by Ben Ryan. Image: supplied

The most unusual object in my house is... probably my cat. I have two – and one is your typical pretty, careful, sassy kind of cat. The other is a ridiculous slob with a weird nose who falls off stuff and eats like a glutton and lopes around the house with all the grace of a 10-week old labrador-cross-rhinoceros.

I celebrate my achievements by... drinking wine, eating olives, the regular stuff.

'Blind Me' by Ben Ryan. Image: supplied

Something in the world that already exists that I wish I had created is... Cheezels. God damn I love Cheezels and I think the only thing that makes me feel like I might want to have a kid someday is the memory of all the Cheezels there were at kids’ birthday parties. But then again kids seem all health-conscious these days, or their parents are, so probably at a party there’s a bowl full of slices of hollowed-out carrot or some other miserable delight.

Find out more about Ben Ryan at his website Ben Ryan | Portrait Artist Australia ( Book in for classes at Hamley Studio of Fine Art here: Art Classes | Hamley Studio Of Fine Art | Hornsby.

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