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Artist profile: Rachel Ryan

Mixed-media artist Rachel Ryan loves blurring the boundaries between art and craft.

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"Spin" (2014) by Rachel Ryan. Fabric collage (applique quilt techniques, machine embroidery) of mixed fabrics.

For mixed-media artist Rachel Ryan, bold design is the difference between a nice wall hanging and an incredible wall hanging. “I love colour and pattern,” she says. “There’s nothing so depressing to me than a bare white wall.”

Ryan has been creating vibrant artworks since she was a child growing up in Central Newfoundland. Her curiosity to explore different materials and techniques have led her to study at campuses across Canada, including the Anna Templeton Centre in St. John’s and the Alberta College of Art and Design.

Fabrics are the common thread across her mixed-media works, which include bold collage wall hangings. “My wall hangings are fabric but I like bringing in different elements to the process, like paper and paint,” she says. A favourite technique is to paint a canvas with acrylics, take the canvas off the frame and then “draw” on it with her sewing machine.

“I come from a history of women’s craft, and I’m still very interested in that,” Ryan says, naming American rug hooker Nancy Edell, Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis and Newfoundland artist Mary Pratt as influences. “In my own case, I don’t deny the fact that I’m a mother and that those things that will be present in my work.”

Art is a personal form of expression for Ryan. “It’s not even my own concept of what I want to say, it’s about expressing how I feel,” she says.

After a divorce and the death of her mother to cancer, she decided to put down roots with her young son in Kingston, Nova Scotia. “I was coming out of the other end of a long, dark time, but my art was always there with me. My last solo show had a lot of work from that time [Waking Dreams in 2011 at the Craft Council of Newfoundland in St. John’s].”

Ryan recently showed three wall hangings at Gallery@Acts at the Atlantic Craft Trade Show in Halifax. “I’m feeling the waters right now,” she says with a laugh. “I’m really interested in the strong craft element of art, and blurring the boundaries of what makes something art and what makes something craft.” See more of Ryan’s pieces on her Facebook page.

East Coast Living