June 23, 2011 in Washington Voices

Artist contemplates modern cultural influences

Jennifer Larue
Christopher Anderson photoBuy this photo

Ryan Babcock is a Spokane artist who works in several media, including oil on canvas and charcoal mixed media. He sits in his studio with examples of his work, including “Portrait of a Desperate Man.”
(Full-size photo)

Art quote of the week

“Art has no other purpose than to brush aside the conventional and accepted generalities, in short everything that veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself.”

Henri Bergson (1859- 1941), philosopher

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Though not self-proclaimed, artist Ryan Babcock could just as well be called a visual philosopher. His work speaks of the inner workings of someone who is constantly pondering the state of society and its actions with a goal of making viewers think.

“My art foresees the possibility of a world of separateness, loneliness, absent thinking and lack of personal awareness. This is caused by the teachings presented to us by corporate America,” he said. “I believe that we are all here on this earth to learn, evolve and be happy.”

His most recent painting is a large portrait slightly fractured by lines and subtle color changes. The bald man almost looks Zen or in a state of reflective meditation. The painting is called “Portrait of a Desperate Man,” and the man’s name is James J. Lee.

Lee was shot and killed by law enforcement Sept. 10 after a standoff with hostages that lasted several hours at the Discovery Channel communication building in Maryland. He penned a manifesto setting forth his ideas about population control and the vile nature of human civilization.

“I did this painting because it reflects the insanity and desperation of a modern-day crazy hero,” Babcock said.

Other paintings include “Thumping” and “Egg Factory,” depicting common practices to produce breakfast; “The March of Adaptation,” showing a well-dressed man with a brown bag over his head; and “Bound by Evolution,” showing a well-dressed man wrapped with a cord that is plugged in on one end and leads to a screen lined with color bars in place of the man’s head.

Another piece called “Dream World Interrupted” shows a man with a heavy electrical cord going directly into his brain. The man looks tired and the clock shows 7.

Born in Seattle, Babcock, 25, moved to Spokane Valley at 16 to live with his dad. “I was raised pretty ‘communally,’ ” he said, “allowing for lots of perspectives and understanding.”

He showed his paintings as a teen in Edmonds School District and then East Valley School District. He attended Spokane Falls Community College and earned a Bachelor of Fine Art from Western Washington University. His future plans include delving into the death of forests and wetlands and getting a master’s degree.

For now, he works on the house that was left to him after the death of his grandparents, stocks beer at grocery stores, and paints thought-provoking pieces that sometimes begin in the pages of his personal sketchbooks in which he ponders the state of the world.

“The purpose of my work is to make people reflect on our modern evolution,” he said. “Our culture is becoming dependent on corporations, single-sided media sources, and a heavily economic-driven lifestyle. Most people do not have the time, energy, or ambition to analyze the concepts conveyed to them. My work tries to question the system that has been slid into place.” 

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