On his first trip to New York, a then 6-year-old Ryan Orewiler drew an aerial view of the city.
It would be years before Orewiler returned to the city, but the experience stuck with him. As his artistic career developed, he eventually became known for his abstract takes on cityscapes.
Though Orewiler’s painting has taken him across continents, he still counts his hometown of Columbus as one of his favorite cities to bring to life with his brush. Many of his Columbus paintings, along with some from travels to Chicago and Europe, will be on display in a show at Hayley Gallery honoring Columbus’s bicentennial, running Dec. 8-Feb. 8. Amidst the paintings, some silk screens of Columbus will also be shown.
“I’m trying to get a nice arrangement that will exhibit my travels and also highlight Columbus,” Orewiler says.
Orewiler’s cityscapes are a loose rendition of images with an impressionistic feel. He uses bold colors for strong contrast.
“I try to energize the viewer with the colors and the contrast,” he says.
Orewiler’s style has gained notoriety beyond Ohio. The Chicago-based Leigh Gallery regularly features his work. Back at home, Orewiler runs Studios on High Gallery in the Short North with several other artists.
Though he is skilled with the paint brush, Orewiler’s talents extend beyond one singular type of media. He also creates found object art, using light to create shape and shadows within sculptural pieces.
About two years ago, he taught himself how to use silk screen – through, as he puts it, “lots of trial and error.”
“I enjoy looking at pieces that are created that way,” he says.
Orewiler grew up in a family of artists and craftsmen. As a result, he gained a healthy appreciation of structure and form, which he says transferred into a love of city architecture. Travel was also a large part of his upbringing.
“I was cultured at a young age. I was fortunate,” Orewiler says.
Outside of Columbus, some of Orewiler’s favorite locales are Italy, Chicago and southeast Asia. Orewiler doesn’t paint on location – instead, he returns from each trip with a myriad of photos of architectural elements. He sifts through thousands of photographs to find about 20 to paint.
Though he grew up with photography, Orewiler doesn’t consider himself a true photographer. Rather, he views the camera as a tool – a means to an end. On location, Orewiler shoots photos featuring strong design and composition. He tends to gravitate toward historical architecture.
The energy, smell, architecture and cultural influence of the location all contribute to how he shapes the piece.
“When I paint, I look at it as an abstract form and shapes,” he says.
As a high school student, Orewiler focused on drawing and watercolor media. He didn’t put much thought into a career in art, but at the last minute, he put together a portfolio that earned him a scholarship to the Columbus College of Art & Design.
Orewiler found his freshman year at CCAD to be very competitive and challenging. In learning fundamentals like understanding chroma and hue, he found there were many things he didn’t know.
During his junior year, Orewiler started doing landscape painting for a class. His first painting was fields and cows, but he soon became disenfranchised with such pastoral scenes.
“They don’t have enough energy for me,” he says.
The traditional landscape is too peaceful for Orewiler’s liking. Perhaps as a result of the history of carpentry in his family, man-made structures and geometric shapes created by light hitting buildings resonate more with him.
In 1997, with his teacher’s permission, he began instead to paint city imagery.
Orewiler generally prefers oil paints. Since nearly the entire piece can be painted while wet, the medium allows for faster painting.
“It’s more expressive,” Orewiler says.
He describes his work as a mix between impressionism and expressionism, as he expresses a moment and feeling in time through brush work. He tries to push value and create depth.
“I want you to feel like you can walk in it,” he says of his work.
“Intelligent” brush work is important to Orewiler. Just a couple of brush strokes can create a structure, or a car. When painting an object, he analyzes lines, focusing on what makes the item unique: a headlight on a car or a single street lamp, for example.
“An essence of maybe five brush strokes will make that form,” he says.
Orewiler likes to present his city scenery in a new light so the setting is not immediately obvious to the viewer. Sometimes, his abstractions can take on a minimalist style to convey a particular message. He likes viewers to dig into the piece, reading the imagery and interpreting their own stories.
“I’m showing the viewer what I see through my eyes,” he says.
Sarah Sole is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.