The Gargiulo Art Foundation named illustrator and painter Weldon Ryan its 2011 Flagler County Artist of the Year.
Before Weldon Ryan was named the Gargiulo Art Foundation’s 2011 artist of the year, he was a modern cowboy.
Instead of being a starving artist, he says he went the safe route and got a job in the New York City Police Department. For half a decade, he worked Manhattan’s harshest crime districts, “chasing people with guns and risking my life.”
Later, he was chosen from about 100 applicants to become a forensic composite artist. Of 42,000 law-enforcement officers in the region, he was in a department of three.
“In a sophisticated manner, I was locking up people,” he said, sitting in his cluttered studio at Hollingsworth Gallery, surrounded by photographs and stacks of partially completed paintings.
Since getting the artist-of-the-year nod, Ryan has been working like crazy. He comes in about five nights a week to paint from midnight till dawn in preparation for his Nov. 12 show, at Hollingsworth.
In his 10 years as a sketch artist, he did more than 1,500 drawings. He made “Wanted” posters and sketched age-progressed perpetrators for reopened cold cases. He reconstructed images of victims who had died, their bodies too decomposed or mutilated to make out their features for identification.
“You share something very special (with them),” he said of working with crime victims, raped women, mugged seniors, people who witness homicides. “In a sense, you’re a team now. You feel obligated to do the best sketch you can do.”
The closer a face came to realization, he said, the closer he would feel to a victim. It was stressful, and sometimes hard to take. But also moving.
“At the end of a sketch, they would break down. And you couldn’t touch them,” he said. “You’d have to find other ways to console them.”
Tiny gestures. Sliding over a box of tissues.
Weldon Ryan, born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, is the former president of the Flagler County Art League. He has exhibited at countless galleries and appeared on “The Riki Lake Show.” His art has been featured on “The Geraldo Rivera Show,” CNN and “Nickelodeon Magazine.”
He was also an executive board member for Flagler’s Police Athletic League and, in 2008, started the West Flagler Football Association, for local at-risk youth.
“I like to bite off more than I can chew,” he said, pulling out panels of unfinished work, some barely started, most planned for display at his opening.
An illustrator by trade, Ryan “gets” the human form. He understands how light refracts and interacts with the natural world. He calls himself a realist — but not a hard-line one. Whereas more abstract painters might “get caught up in the serendipity” of their process, Ryan has a vision, and he sees it through.
“An illustrator’s more controlled than a fine artist,” he said. “That’s my plus and that’s my negative. It can sometimes be a burden that I’m trying to be so real, that I forget about the more creative aspect.”
He calls his art a celebration of people, color and motion. One of his most exuberant works, “Ascension,” is a prime example of that.
From beneath the subject, we look up, at a shimmering blue sky, partly shaded by a shirtless figure, craning his neck toward the sun. He could be giant, or we could be small. All we know for sure is that he is mighty.
Ryan says the painting is about his son, a piano player.
“It’s about ascending to a higher plane of talent, of communicating your talent and understanding your talent … (It’s about) ascension to a higher level of perfection.”
His latest series of pieces, though — of which he plans to showcase at least two at his opening, along with a few new portraits — are darker, more moody, showing off a new side to Ryan’s style. They’re rain scenes: nature and how manmade forms react inside it. There are no faces or bodies, just drops of dew sliding down car hoods, and fiery tail lights caught in the traffic of a rainstorm. Each one is a marriage of cool and hot — gray roadways burned by red brake signals.
There’s something fascinating to Ryan about the rain — he says so sitting in front of a window above a wet and breezy Cypress Point Parkway.
“It puts you in a different world,” he said, “and everything else is around you. On a rainy day, it’s just that way … You’re inside of something … an atrium or, where you’re encased. And you’re looking out into the world, (into) whatever spiritual situation is looking in.”
Behind him, the city is gloomy and gray. It opened up just long enough to let the moisture in, and then it closed.
Behind him, Palm Coast is beautiful. It’s quiet and colorless and pulsing with life.
Weldon Ryan’s free art showcase will open 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Hollingsworth Gallery in City Marketplace.
For more, call 446-0617.