By Jayme Eng / Photography by Jayme Eng
For some mothers, having an artsy child can be exciting, as long as they keep their artwork on paper or canvas. But Peoria artist Ryan Dowell enjoyed drawing on anything, including walls and sidewalks as well as on paper.
Ryan grew up in London Mills, Illinois where he was excited about art as a child. “My art teacher in grade school was really adamant about art and really helped to manifest my passion for art.” Though Ryan was taught about realism first, he always gravitated to a style that resembled the line-work of his childhood, which he continues to use in his art today.
When he graduated from high school, Ryan first attended Spoon River College in Canton, Illinois before attending Bradley University. There he’s currently working hard on achieving a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a focus in painting and sculpture. “At first I thought I was going to go into politics,” Ryan said, but art has always been something he enjoyed and realized he could make statements with his art.
By constantly looking at other artists and researching different topics, Ryan uses his own works of art to criticize social issues. “I want to entice my audience through humorous images but also get them thinking about the social issues I’m presenting.” Using humor, according to Ryan, rather than merely stating the social issue creates a different response. “Just saying it would make people sad, so I found that humor was a way to lightheartedly get people interested.”
Ryan also uses mixed media in his art, such as newspaper clippings that pertain to the issue he’s discussing in his art. “I can use acrylics, oil, pastel, and spray paint all on the same surface.” But before he even gets to his canvas, Ryan likes to research to help answer his question, “How do I get to the idea in my head?” Though he never sketches the ideas he has, Ryan likes to have a good idea on how to go about his ideas. He visits galleries in Chicago and St. Louis regularly to look at works by other artists while researching different techniques and ways to improve his own style.
As for influences, Ryan likes to look at street artists from the 80’s as well as classical painters to set up a painting. “I also like to look at Pop Art, but mostly for composition.”
For Ryan, executing his pieces is the most difficult for him, rather than researching. “I have an idea in my head, but my art and research can take me so many different directions.” To help solidify what he’s going to paint, Ryan outlines his work in chalk and adjusts as he continues.
Most of his canvases are also made by himself. “At Bradley, one of my art professors taught me to stretch canvases and I just ran with it.” Ryan also still draws on walls, only this time they aren’t limited to his house as they are in much more public places. “They get painted over a lot, but I’ve been taking photos of them when I realized I could put them in a gallery.” These pieces are also central around social commentary.
Though Ryan’s work isn’t in any galleries at the present, his work was featured in the 2012 Ciao & Friends Opening Art Exhibition at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.
When asked about his aspirations, Ryan stated that he wanted to go to graduate school to study art education. When asked why, he replied, “I had a lot of great art teachers growing up and I realized that fueled my desire to not only create but to teach art as well.”