Up Close: Ryan Hnat

Up Close & Personal

Art Explorer

Ryan Hnat’s world isn’t flat, and neither is his artwork. His new exhibit at Afa Gallery is called “Plane Space,” and it’s anything but plain. The show moves beyond just a two-dimensional painting to a realm where flat surfaces don’t exist. It plays with geometry and physics to show a world full of textures, colors and lines. Hnat has a passion for turning things around him into art, whether it’s a surface of a canvas, or pieces of nature. That’s clear from his new outdoors-themed book, Watch Towers and Portals, which he co-wrote with his wife, Amy. The book will be released at the exhibit opening on Friday, March 7 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Afa Gallery, located at 514 Lackawanna Ave. in Scranton. The event is a marker in the Scranton resident’s young, already successful career. The Penn State and Marywood grad has shown his art in several other cities, including Philadelphia and New York. But he’s also working to unite other artists, right here in The 570. Meet Ryan Hnat …

Tell me about your exhibition at Afa Gallery.
The exhibition includes abstract paintings and several sculptures I’ve created. So it’s a really immense show — it’s intense. The sculptures in the show are built out of a lot of house materials, because we bought a house and we’ve been doing a lot of construction work and everything’s right there. It makes sense to work with those materials. The paintings are a year’s worth of work. It’s an exploration of plane space, the use of three-dimensional objects and also texture and color. Though the sculptures are very minute in color, the paintings are very bright. And they’re from small to large. We’re trying to meet everybody’s tastes and budgets so everybody can walk away with a work from the show.

EC06UPC_6_WEBWhy should people come to the show?
It’s going to be something they’ve never seen before. They’re going to either really love it or hate it, and I think everybody’s going to love it. I hope anybody who comes to this show is going to be blown away. It’s going to be a real breath of fresh air, a new look at what a painting can be. We’re really trying to get more people out. Basically, come to a show and ask questions. Learn about the paintings and spend time with a work as opposed to looking at it and walking away. Some paintings that I experienced that I really enjoyed, I couldn’t tell you if I liked them right away or not. After 15 minutes or an hour and a half, that’s when you really get to know and see a painting.

What places do you find inspiration for your artwork?
My wife. She puts up with a lot and she helps me, a lot of times I’ll come to her and ask, ‘hey, is this color right? How do you like this?’ I also get a lot of inspiration from being out in the woods and from people in general, just being out and about and seeing how people interact with space and how objects are created. Also, I’m an elementary school teacher for Neil Armstrong for the Scranton School District, and it’s a lot of fun. The kids are great. I kind of steal from them every once in a while because their art is so good sometimes.

What is the concept of your new book, Watch Towers and Portals?
The quote on the back is probably the best way to say it: ‘a visual journey of play throughout remote places in Northeastern Pennsylvania.’ The book is not about doing these awesome, incredible works. It’s about trying to inspire people to go out and play in the dirt, get outside. We also dedicated the book to everybody who preserves nature around us. So it’s really about getting out and seeing how nature works and trying to show a human presence without having an impact. We’re not making any money off the book, we just did it to get it out there, show people what we did, document it.

What are watch towers and portals?
You would never see a watch tower or stacked stones unless it was from other human, so it shows you a human presence when you’re out in the middle of the woods in a very remote place but you know you’re still safe because somebody stacked stones here, so somebody else has been here. The portals are very temporary sculptures in leaves, and they’re about just a timeless moment, a real quick spot, and some of them are really big. We leave them and we try to engage people to walk around them or stand in them. And they’re built right by major waterfalls or along a path, and when you come across it it’s another human element. We probably started the first one 2 and ½ years ago. It was when Amy and I just started dating.

EC06UPC_4_WEBIt seems like you really love nature.
Yes. Amy and I are both avid rock climbers. We’re probably out in the woods two or three times a week without a doubt. I probably take our two dogs walking every day in Nay Aug Park. When Amy’s home on the weekends, we’re usually at East Scranton Park. I built a lot of sculptures on Roaring Brook, which is in a really remote section, and you have to go down a little cliff to get to it. I think there’s still one standing.

How do you work to promote other local artists?
I’m on the board of Afa, and right now we’re trying to bring everybody together again. Everybody wants to do their own thing and be successful, but the only way that everybody can survive in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre is if everybody works together and supports each other. Everybody can prosper. What’s great about Afa is they support the artist so much and it’s a great place for your art to be seen. It was the first place that started First Friday. There’s a lot of support for other artists and it’s a great community and I can’t be more grateful to be a part of it.

What’s next for your career?
I would like to go on to a bigger city. We’ll probably be in Scranton for a long time. To really make a career as an artist and keep moving on, we really have to push for New York City and push beyond, trying to do something international. There might be a possibility for me showing in the Czech Republic in the next year, so we’re trying to get things moving in the right direction, and this is where it’s all starting. I’m getting tons of support from lots of public sources and it’s really getting exciting. I think starting local and getting the support here and having the people around here support the arts and support individual artists to keep building their career, anybody around here can do anything and that’s what we need lots of — lots of local support.
-kirstin cook