• Profile: Ryan McGinness
  • An(n)us Mirabilus (2006), acrylic on linen, 96" x 96"

  • Profile: Ryan McGinness
  • Multiverse (2004-05), installation at Galerie du Jour, Paris

  • Profile: Ryan McGinness
  • installation view (2005), installation at Deitch Projects, New York

“I’m much better at structuring my environment than I am at structuring my life,” says artist/designer Ryan McGuinness, “My studio is in order. My daily schedule is not.” Juggling a wild variety of projects, from skateboards to international exhibitions, McGinness has made the tension between confusion and organization his great subject. The individual elements in his work are simple, but he layers them into tangles. Plucking conventional signs, such as the stick figures that populate bathroom doors or the stylized lions of heraldic shields, from their usual surroundings, McGinness deposits them in briar patches of imagery.

Liberated from their mundane roles, the figures explore and mutate: doubling, sprouting antlers, encountering unicorns, becoming ambiguous communiques from the subconscious. There’s a hallucinatory edge to the 32-year-old McGinness’s dropped-out, turned-on glyphs. They wander in a shape-shifting universe where the ground underfoot might be the back of a duck or the door ahead the eye of larger figure. In this and other ways his work is reminiscent of 1960s counterculture. Like that era’s psychedelic poster artists, McGinness makes little distinction between “high” and “low” art, applying his digitally-generated, silk-screened imagery to walls, paintings, books, rugs, t-shirts, and soccer balls alike. “Everything is from the same place,” he scrawled across a photograph of the Milky Way pasted into his journal.

The sense of cosmic connection is central to his work. Among McGinness’s inspirations are the writings of Peter Russell, who believes that humans are part of a rapidly integrating network, an awakening “global brain.” “I’ve had inklings of such an experience,” says McGinness, “crystallized while I was on mushrooms. As an artist, I allow myself to be a portal.”

Portals frequently appear in his work, as in the painting Recording Loop (2005). At the heart of a pulsing bundle of calligraphic strokes — formal script gone crazy — is a quiet spot that opens into the distance. Sometimes, as in the installation Multiverse, an entire painting on canvas becomes a window through an encompassing wall painting. “For Multiverse,” says McGinness, “I took the ideas of M-theory as a point of departure: multiple universes exist and bump into each other, like bubbles in boiling water.”

Bits of math and science crop up frequently in his work, but they never dominate. In a recent book on his creative process, installationview, McGinness shows how he uses geometry to structure his first sketches. His basic compositions are easily described as circles, spirals, or other regular forms. But in the finished work, these organizing structures support a hubbub of details. McGinness cherishes both the clamor and the order: adding new layers to the work, he writes, injects intuition, “allowing the human spirit to have the final say in ordering the universe.”


Meredith Tromble is a member of the Stretcher artists' collective.