Kathryn Ryan Painter / Charcoal Drawing

Recently you took a year off painting.  A year to relook and reseeing and refocus.

What led you to do this?

After 20+ years of holding solo exhibitions most years.  I just really felt I needed a break from that, and I have always had a passion for charcoal drawing, yet not much opportunity to exhibit or do them. So stubbornly, I put down the brushes and dedicated a whole year to charcoal drawing with the series Rapture.

Bastikiya I charcoal 107 x 63cm Framed 128 x 83cm

How did your work change after this break? 

Focusing on the visual language of drawing, being completely immersed in the relationships of tone, mark making, compositional elements and pushing the drawing beyond any I had done previously, was such an all-encompassing process. It re-engaged my love of working tonally and contrasting mark making and different treatments in the work.

It led the way for the development of my latest series of oil paintings, STILL POINT – a far more reductive and minimal series of paintings, slowing down, offering a quiet, still, space and worked more tonally.

How did you personally change?

Rapture II charcoal 72 x107cm Framed 93x127cm

Slowing down, taking more time, and being dedicated to my practice. Observing and noticing the beauty around me. Enjoying communicating through my visual language.

With the charcoals I often worked 10 hours a day for 2-3 weeks on the one large drawing, giving it all the time, it needed to finish and only focusing on that one drawing – nothing else was worked on.

Embrace charcoal 107x67cm framed 128 x 87cm

With STILL POINT – I gave the paintings a lot more time, sometimes working on paintings over a 6-month period and often focusing on one painting only for a week at a time, then putting it aside to dry before it had its next layers… 

What medium do you use?

Oil painting – oil on linen & charcoal drawing- willow and compressed charcoal. 

Discuss the intricate details of your work.

In the past few years, I have been working with a lot more detail, which is contrasted  juxtaposed with vast areas of space and glazing work.

I love getting lost in the detail and have been working with tiny 10/0 brushes painting one dot at time, slowly building layers, building tone, light, and depth. It is a very calming way of working, very meditative and you are aware of each mark made by your hand. Intuitively following marks and totally absorbed in the process.


Drift, oil on linen 137 x 183cm 2023

Comment on the hours it takes to produce and work and how do you allocate your time. 

My oil paintings take approx. 3-4 months each to do. I generally have 4 or 5 canvases on the go at one time and divide my time with these depending on drying time and whether I am working in details for many days or frantic glazing session.

My studio days are at least 5 days per week and often long days and into the evenings as well, although the evenings are often admin or research time and mornings are often social media, emails, website etc.

Ascending, oil on linen 107 x 137cm 2023

How does your environment influence your work?

The landscape I grew up with, isolated on a dairy farm, has for many years informed my work. It is a dramatic windswept farming landscape with battered cypress trees punctuating the views like sculptural elements. The skies are vast, the feeling of space and light is all around.

This has informed how I see the world, my sensitivity and awareness to it. Constantly aware of the seasons, times of day and changing weather- the more wintery climate with its moods and atmospheres has translated into my paintings of evocative landscapes.

Pathway, oil on linen 107x 137cm 2023

Comment on the calmness of your work?

My work has very often been concerned with offering a calm and contemplative space, a means of going beyond, a depth of feeling and insight or emotional response.

With my latest series STILL POINT, this took on an all-encompassing feel for the show.

Having felt the stress and business of our lives increasing and the noise from media and pace of life it made me want to seek that slowing down, finding a calm and stillness even more. Therefore, my work is becoming quieter and more reductive, reducing things to their essential, with their power felt though their quiet and subtle moments. Yearning and searching for those calm moments found mostly through a closeness to the natural world and in the private retreat of my studio.

How calming is this for you personally?

It is essential. I need to block out all the unnecessary noise and chaos and create a calmer environment for myself this is how I work, make art and stay in tune with myself and nature.

Below Southern Skies, oil on linen 107 x 137cm 2023

Discuss the importance of having your work in local and regional galleries. 

I love developing a series of works and ideally to show them as one, to convey that whole story. To see the works outside of a cramped studio and to be hanging on the beautiful white walls of a gallery space is such a thrill, the works can then really come alive and be seen properly.

To see your work exhibited and collected by Regional Galleries feels like such a reward for years of hard work, their vote of confidence and support means a lot. That they are placing your artwork alongside your peers or adding your work to their historical collections, affirms their belief in what you are doing and gives you a personal boost in your solitary life in the studio!

Take on work and explain the importance of that work in your own personal growth.


Still Point, oil on linen 137 x 183cm 2023

For me this painting achieved a new level of sophistication, in its desire to reduce things to their most essential, and yet feel a powerful sense in its quietness, stillness and reductive, almost minimal sense of painting. It is subtle and sensuous, inviting close inspection through its intricate detail and simultaneously offering an endless space of softened light through layers of glassy, smooth, transparent glazes to go beyond the horizon.

To reach this level of quiet power through the most subtle of means has been a life’s journey of following the concerns in my work and having a deep understanding of what I am trying to convey. Self-knowledge, translating my observing and responding of the natural world into my visual language, it all comes together… and taking more time and care.

Why do you love being an artist?

This is how I see and understand the world around me and communicate what moves me, what resonates for me. Creating my visual language, to delve deeper, to understand, investigate & communicate, to find beauty to be elevated to the sublime or spiritual feeling has been crucial to me, I love art with a passion.

Discuss the harmony and balance in your art?

My main concerns lie with the harmony & balance of co-existing opposites: The fragilities & strengths/ the macro- micro/ The beauty, cycles of decay & growth, the transient and the solid, the list goes on …

The balance of opposing forces- the delicate & fleeting and the strong and grounded-has always been a concern in my work. So, in the work you often see a juxtaposition of strength and fragility, the intimate and distant, the fleeting and solid played out through the treatment of light and shadow, both bold and subtle, precise, and ambiguous.

Viewpoint, oil on linen, 107 x 137cm 2023

I think the combination of delicate work and vast space & light – they’re in a sense inviting you in, there’s an intimacy and at the same time giving you space.

In the making of the works, I am completely absorbed in the process, the relationships of tone, lights, darks, subtle areas, strong areas, detailed areas, quieter areas and how your eye takes in the whole composition. It is a matter of combining, weaving all these elements in their own complex web to create an overall balance and harmony. Your eye can rest and take in the whole painting and presence of the work in a restful manner. You can search the intimate details, be lost in an endless space, and simultaneously take in those opposing/ differing areas at once.


Kathryn Ryan

Victoria, Australia


Deborah Blakeley, Melbourne, Australia

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, November 2023