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“Of course the idea of the future is crucial to our way of life, especially here in North America,” Ryan explains. “I have embraced the avant-garde all my life. But I live my history every day, too. I have never turned my back on the past.”

“Growing up, in my family, we didn’t go to the beach. I mean of course we did sometimes, but more often we went to look at a cathedral, or a castle, or to look at a painting, or spend a day looking at a Caravaggio somewhere. This is where my sense of beauty originates, I’m sure. And also my sense of history. When I think of history being so near as that, in daily life, even now, all these years later, it gives me a terribly strong sense of belonging.”

Chantal Ryan was born into an old and intellectual Parisian family in the years following the Second World War. While her home life and upbringing bore the hallmarks of a distinguished past, the world beyond her Left Bank doorstep trembled on the verge of enormous social and political change. That uneasy balance between the old and the new - between a respect for the past and a consuming interest in the future - has been at the core of Ryan’s work and thought ever since.

On first viewing, Vancouver artist Ryan’s abstract paintings evoke a gentle, nostalgic world, full of places that lend themselves to easy reverie: private gardens, mountain vistas, tropical lagoons, night skies. But the jewel-like colours and balanced forms soon give way to something shadowy hiding beneath the surface. There is drama here, a tension and strength that demand repeated visits. A landscape in Ryan’s hands only seems romantic; something in these paintings is constantly changing, disorienting. Her starry skies have the power to enchant, but they can unsettle, too.

Part of the drama of her work is due to an optical process Ryan took three years to perfect. She paints on sheets of mylar, working in reverse, so that the brightest part of the scene, the highlights that register first on the eye are painted first. Then when the painting is completed, and the mylar is turned over to be exhibited, those first marks are the most visible. The brightness of the foreground pigments emphasize the turbulance and shadows of all that lies below.

Ryan’s work is represented in collections around the world, with numerous clients in France, Italy, Mexico, the United States, Great Britain and Canada.