Ryan Estep: Star Material

Ryan Estep

Ryan Estep. Courtesy of the artist.

“The studio is a room of problems,” Ryan Estep says. And many of them seem to be of his own creation. The 34-year-old artist likes to complicate the making of his shadowy abstract paintings by using difficult materials and processes. He sterilizes soil in an industrial kiln before sifting it through a metal screen onto canvases coated with glue in a careful Ben-Day dot pattern—which he ends up smearing when he removes the screen. Or he will paint the edges of a large canvas with a mixture of black pigment and Lidocaine, a skin-numbing agent that makes his hands fumble as he attempts to re-stretch the wet canvas on its frame. Estep might be eschewing traditional methods of painting, but it’s not necessarily to advance some new school of thought—he is just “expressing physical gestures in an honest way,” he says. The messiness of his work, he adds, reflects “how much I hate what I’m doing at the moment.” This inimical attitude belies Estep’s dedication to his calling: Currently, he is raising a Meyer lemon tree in his Brooklyn studio, “pollinating” it using a paintbrush with greater care than the bees that might otherwise do the job. He wants to mix pollen and encaustic to make drawings, and plans to use lemon trees and their fruit in new projects. And yet, despite his apparent devotion to the tree, which looks to be thriving, Estep claims, “I don’t have any connection to anything I make.”

Installation view of Untitled Iron Oxide, Soap, Lemons, 2014. Courtesy of Ellis King Gallery, Dublin.