Metaphor in Structure

Metaphor in Structure
by Jason Andrew
Lake Champlain Weekly – January 12, 2005 

The great Surrealist’s of the modern era placed, above all, emphasis on two fundamental principles: first, the act of creating art with little or no external influence or control; and second, the premise “beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.”  André Breton in his First Surrealist Manifesto, (1924) defined Surrealism: “as pure psychic automatism, through which we express the actual functioning of thought.”  During this time the use of metaphor became a calculated ingredient necessary to complete the dreamlike works of Miró, Ernst, Delvaux, Magritte, and Dalí.  These artists considered themselves representatives of a new frame of mind, and while their ideas were heavily influenced by psychoanalysis, their challenging aesthetic forever affected the way artists made art and the public experienced it.

Today, in the era of modern post-modernism where aesthetics and ‘principals of art’ have been tirelessly confronted and endlessly disputed, it is refreshing to find artists that continue to use metaphor as a way to retain spontaneity and uniqueness.

Opening 15 January at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts is an exhibition titled “Metaphor in Structure.”  The exhibition, organized by Norte Maar for Collaborative Projects in the Arts features the recent work of three of Plattsburgh’s most promising emerging artists: James Juron, James Ryan, and Ryan J. Wilson.

Not unlike the early surrealist these three local artists, through separate modes of expression, make accessible through their art the realms of the oneiric, the unconscious, irrational, and imaginary: for Juron it is paint, for Ryan it is sculpture, and for Wilson it is video.  Each artist in his own way reference symbols, play with allegories, and channel myths to create personal notations–illusions of the world–furthering insight into the human psyche and offering comparisons to the physical world. Their work is representative of unique minds, skilled hands, and experienced eyes, yet each has a similar theme: their allusion to metaphor.

OF THE PSYCHOLGICAL: paintings by James Juron.

Painter James Juron grew up in Troy, NY, and is a recent graduate from the painting school at SUNY Plattsburgh.  Juron’s dark paintings elicit an inner light that plays on the psychological depictions of emotional states of being: hope, despair, grace, and absence.  Juron paints figures straddled by architecture, and while it may seem at times that the towering walls of a familiar place may over power the composition, Juron’s single figure stands heroic anchored by their physical presence and a dense cast shadow.

“They are a combination of the psychological and the observed,” Juron says of his paintings.  “They activate silence and operate visually within it.  The works are inscriptions created by a process of symbolic physical gestures that become shapes and forms.”

Juron’s paintings have the technical prowess of that of the masters with compositions built layer upon layer, thin glaze upon thin glaze.  However, and more importantly, it is his comparison to the metaphysical works of de Chirico that makes his paintings so successful.

OF THE PHYSICAL: sculpture by James Juron

If Juron’s pictures address the psychological, James Ryan’s sculptures drum in the physical.  Ryan is from Massena, NY, and a recent graduate from the sculpture school at SUNY Plattsburgh.  This last summer he interned at the Franconia Sculpture Park, Shafer, MN.  His sculptures, mostly made of steel, play on our perception of materials, questioning their purpose, their attributes, their abilities, their strengths, and their weaknesses. A gifted sculptor, Ryan has an innate ability to create works that reflect a correlation of elements: a balance of the inner and outer structures, formal and spatial tensions, stability and movement.  Not so unlike the architectonic works of the Constructivist Gabo, Tatlin, and Rodchenko, Ryan’s sculptures are sentinels of abstract, rhythmic patterns.  Masculine, and at times cold these non-representational works metaphorically portray elements of tension and potential.

“The strongest feelings I have about my work are linked to its reality and sense of urgency,” Ryan states, “Developing ideas through form and process provides a constant challenge to me as an artist.  When dealing with weight, mass, tension and assembly there are many basic, but very related elements that must always be considered.”

OF TIME AND PLACE: video by Ryan J. Wilson

Capturing and conveying time and place has been an ongoing pursuit of artists throughout history.  As new technologies develop artists have adapted their palettes to incorporate these new forms of expression.  One such genre is video art.

The popularization of television in the 1960’s elevated the electronic monitor to a new role of a visual mediator.  Artist adopted television and video to transport the viewer to a new level of perception, time, and place.

Video artist Ryan J. Wilson has created a video called “Oil is Blood” that be the focus of his installation located in the security safe at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts. Wilson studied at Munson Williams Proctor Institute and received a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD in 2001. He lived in New York City from 2001 to 2003, and currently lives in his hometown of Peru, NY. Wilson’s videos have been featured at the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival, and most recently Wilson collaborated with Norte Maar and the City of Plattsburgh to create LAN SAT–a public projection on the MacDonough Monument which was featured during the 2004 Mayor’s Cup.

Wilson has made a trait of researching the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for footage for his videos—a process not so unlike a reclamation by Duchamp (The National Archives provides access to materials that were created using federal funding; therefore, the footage remains free of copyright restrictions and available to all United States citizens).  For this project Wilson has reversed his usual process of seamlessly “re-editing” footage and has deconstructed an educational film “Oil is Blood” made in the 1940’s to create a installation that emphasizes the original film’s irrational logic.  The footage displays images of a self-sufficient nation with an abundant supply of oil and a promising future.  Wilson, using the safe as a catalyst, raises the questions of value and expense.

“Due to years of being the greatest consumers in the world, Americans collectively have come to believe in limitless supply and personally have lost a realistic sense of worth,” Wilson explains.  “With this installation I hope to raise questions in the minds of viewers, creating more thought toward the effect of personal habits on the collective image of a nation, particularly when dealing with value, expense and consumption.”


There is no greater responsibility of that of an artist than to create work that challenges.  Juron, Ryan, and Wilson are well-informed artists each attuned to his individual voice.  Their work, like all great artists, poses questions ever so relevant to our time: Juron challenges us psychologically to find hope in a desperate world; Ryan challenges us physically to relate to posed  tensions and stretched potential; and for Wilson, time and place take on a new interpretation as images that were once perceived as truth are readdressed.


Metaphor in Structure, January 15 –February 5 at North Country Cultural Center for the Arts, 30 Brinkerhoff Street, Plattsburgh.  Exhibition opens with a reception for the artist January 15, 5:00-7:00 pm.  An informal talk with the artists will begin at 4:00 pm.  Call (518) 563-1604 for more information or visit www,

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