Against all rules, competitive species engage in quasi-natural acts that involve complex relays of communication. (Click on the “captions” link at the bottom to see the title of each piece.)
Abominations takes up universal questions, such as speculating on the existence of God and what it means to be moral. In the large work, The Immortal, an elk with an impressive rack is pinned by a tree branch into a peculiar, torture-like pose against a white background. On and about him are smaller creatures—hummingbirds and rats—that appear to relish in the great beast’s suffering. Or perhaps they’re merely rubbernecking, taking in the tragic fall of the mighty with relief but also a little schadenfreude.
In Tongue of Wisdom, a coiled rattlesnake cradles a mourning dove as a gaggle of magpies looks on, perched on a discarded set of antlers. Deeply ambiguous, it isn’t clear whether the snake means the dove harm, or which one the magpies are aiding. In Heathen, two birds of differing species appear to argue over what belongs in a reliquary of bird “culture,” shown to include a bird skeleton, unhatched eggs, frogs and fishes, and a harmless scarlet snake.
In other works on black paper, the subjects are more intimate and operate more like traditional still life compositions rather than theatrical mise en scène. The background’s contrasting black void brings everything forward for greater scrutiny, where the meticulous details of McLennan’s art can be quietly enjoyed. As McLennan notes, “Once I learn the geographic distribution of specific animals, their social behavior, and development, I further their existence in a place that only I can document.” This “place” of McLennan’s creation is outfitted with absurd armatures—artfully arranged branches, horns, bones, and rocks—that serve as a stage or apparatus for an equally absurd interaction of nature. Against all rules, competitive species engage in quasi-natural acts that involve complex relays of communication, thus mimicking human behaviors and reflecting back human culture from a skewed but revealing vantage point.
Ryan McLennan was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1980. In 2002, he received a BFA from the Painting and Printmaking Department of Virginia Commonwealth University. Since then, he has exhibited work in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Richmond, Virginia. He is a recipient of the 2008–2009 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship and 2010 West Prize finalist and grand prize winner. Ryan currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.