A Heart for Art
Ryan James is an artist at heart. He may not be the one putting brush to canvas, but his passion for art and eye for talent provides the perfect blank canvas for his career. Ryan fell in love with the arts at a young age, warmly recalling family trips to contemporary art galleries. After years in the retail industry, Ryan began privately working with art clients in 2011, then he opened his Kirkland gallery in 2013. Ryan loves being able to represent art on the Eastside.
“Prior to 2008 there were lots of galleries in downtown Kirkland, but most of those have since closed, leaving Kirkland and the whole of the Eastside as a largely untapped market," he says.
Ryan James Fine Arts just celebrated its seventh year as an exclusively abstract and contemporary gallery that represents 15 Washington-based artists.
Since abstract work at times can become buried in the abundance of other types of visual arts, Ryan wanted to provide an exclusive platform for contemporary artists in Washington, and not without criteria. Ryan only represents value-growth artists who create a series. A series must include a minimum of eight pieces and—quite literally—paint a picture of continuity; a story that unfolds from the first painting to the last.
Take Joan Stuart Ross’s The Oyster Portrait Painting Series*. More than oversized oysters to adorn family room walls, it’s a message about singularity and coupling. The series reveals a story in which each oyster is in relation to one another.
“A piece is not completed until the viewer connects their own message to it,” Ryan offers, as he describes collections full of vibrant, are-they-there landscapes and world travel logs unfolding across a series of monochromatic pieces.
Ryan candidly explains that art is not just about creating what someone may or may not want.
“Real art truly delivers a message. There has to be a message, or what’s the point?” he says.
Breaking the Ice
Ryan understands all too well the “high-brow” perception that abstract art has the potential to emanate. He admits the art space, in general, hasn’t done enough to eradicate those misconceptions. He’s seen highly qualified, professional people enter his gallery, only to be overcome by silence, not knowing what they should or shouldn’t say, even though Ryan insists that there’s no wrong answer.
Ryan loves it when children come into the gallery, as he admires their enthusiasm and openness to talk art—and most often, their parents will follow suit. Ryan wants to send the message home that abstract art is not an intimidating, untouchable concept that demands a certain answer, but rather an unfinished story that desires to find its reader.
“It should be fun,” he says.
The Ryan James Artwork Rental Library encourages a client to be adventurous and try something new. A client can work with a design librarian to find the right artwork for their space, and the gallery will arrive at the client’s home with a variety of options to install. Art is due back after three months, and the next rotation includes curated suggestions. And because all of the artists are local, many are able to visit the client's home and discuss the work, creating a meaningful exchange and a story to tell.
“Just to think this work was created; someone sat down with an intention of sending a message through their work and now it’s on a client's wall," he says. "The piece is living. It has a spirit. The artist and the viewer both connected with it in a meaningful way. It's really amazing to be a part of the process. There are no wrong answers in art; you complete the story. “
Ryan continues to engage in the local community, instilling his passion for art in whatever he does. In 2017, Ryan accepted the opportunity to become president of the Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce and continues to nurture relationships and encourage Kirkland business owners, both big and small, to become involved in the community. This past August, Ryan James Fine Art organized the Art Fair for Kirkland Summerfest. It was its fourth year and largest to date, with 75 artists showing on Park Lane. Perhaps a spark was ignited in a child passing by the artwork, as one was sparked in Ryan years ago.
*Joan Stuart Ross will be in a dual show at the gallery, titled Materials of a Master, with sculptor Dan Freeman from Oct. 1-31. A reception will be held on Oct. 11 from 5-10 p.m.
11905 124th Ave. NE, Kirkland, Washington, 425.814.9500, RyanJamesFineArts.com