Enlightened Abstractions: Ryan Cosbert
African American Painter
New York, NY
ArtMatch Value Score*: Promising
Ryan Cosbert (b. 1999) is an artist whose practice explores historical and modern themes related to the African diaspora while also exploring the formal properties of materials and modern design principles.
Cosbert’s work is rooted in research. She deeply explores a topic and carefully chooses her medium before composing it on canvas or paper. Her formal and self-guided education informs her creative practice, grounding it in formal principles with a fresh take on a variety of topics. Centering her subject matter on the African diaspora, Cosbert aims to create beautiful works that also spark curiosity about the inspiration behind them, thus leading to deeper levels of cultural awareness and spiritual development. In her budding career, Cosbert has had a number of successful exhibitions including her most recent solo exhibition at UTA Artist Space. She also just completed a residency program in London with PM/AM Gallery, in Mayfair, and currently has a group show with them.
"When it comes to embodying a higher consciousness and spiritual uplift, my main goal is to enlighten people."
Ryan Cosbert was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1999. The daughter of a Guyanese mother and a Haitian father, she grew up between New York and Virginia Beach, VA, settling in New York for college and to start her career. Cosbert is a 2021 graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, following the footsteps of her mother who attended the same establishment. In her first years of college, Cosbert explored working with silkscreen printmaking, photography and drawing. During her sophomore year, she started to experiment with abstraction, inspired by artists such as Sam Gilliam, Jack Whitten, Alma Thomas, Frank Bowling and Rashid Johnson. She created her first abstract piece in 2020 titled Chronic Soul which contains black-eyed peas, yams, and watermelon seeds, a reference to staples of West African diets that were brought to America and became staples of diets in the South.
In high school, Cosbert started her own research of history related to the African Diaspora when she felt that she wasn't learning much of relevance in her AP classes. She also felt the desire to discuss the things she was learning with her friends and family, who craved the same information. From there, Cosbert developed a link between her research and her work. Her practice aims to foster knowledge and the learning of one’s origins and roots, to feed and cultivate a curiosity around it. She sees it as the first step toward spiritual development. Cosbert's work engages with the audience, captivates attention with rich texture and meticulously chosen details that have a great significance.
Chronic Soul, 2020
Enamel, black-eyed peas, yams, watermelon seeds, and gel medium on canvas
60 x 46 in
Cosbert's work often features a structured tiled format, which looks like a form of grid on the canvas. The tiles reference childhood memories of her mother's tiled décor on the kitchen floor, in the bathrooms and on walls. When she is not using this format, her works are executed with gestural brushstrokes or drip painting effects.
As she's developed, Cosbert has traded enamel for other mixed media elements and oil painting for acrylic on canvas. She is very much interested in texture, and layers, seeing the works as sculptural. This facet of her work is rendered by the specific and unique formula for her mixture she creates but also in the material she includes in her works such as fishnets, watermelon seeds, Bristol board, tile grout, large scale fabrics, and bullet casings. The latter was used in her Murder Mayhem triptych, which she started the week of George Floyd’s killing in late 2020. The work intends to strongly denounce police brutality in the US in the Black community. She used the colours red, white, and blue to symbolize police sirens, but also the American flag. In all of her work, she uses vibrant colours that are carefully selected after research carried out on their representation.
Murder Mayhem, 2020 (triptych)
Acrylic and bullet casings on canvas
46 x 46 in each
Another meaningful example would be her works titled Port au Prince and George Town, both paintings dedicated to her parents (Port au Prince is the capital of Haiti and George Town is the capital of British Guyana). They are circular paintings, with lines and shapes seeming to imitate a globe, the colours referencing the flags of each country. She also used sand in the paintings as a reference to Caribbean beaches.
Ryan Cosbert’s work asks the viewer to physically interact with it and see the texture, where layers sit similar to roots, mind and body in humans: to uncover one’s layers requires research and attention to then acquire knowledge and comprehension of oneself.