Roski student puts life on ‘PAUSE’ in latest gallery

One of Margot Ryan's paintings. It is of a brunette woman with her back to the viewer. She is standing at the corner of a cross walk in the city and is wearing a black coat.
“PAUSE,” an exhibition of Roski senior Margot Ryan’s paintings, is one of many to be affected by January’s remote start and related delays. (Photo courtesy of Margot Ryan) 

If we’ve seen anything through the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that the hundreds of artists attending USC will stop at nothing to pursue their work. Still, due to the uncertainty around live events and in the interest of safety, students have experienced limited opportunities to showcase their talents.

For example, a number of senior showcases — an invaluable experience for graduating Roski School of Art and Design students — were delayed this January after the omicron surge led to a remote start. Margot Ryan, a senior majoring in fine art, had her expectations dashed by the sudden change.

“I’ve been wary that things could happen and people might not be able to see my work, which has been very stressful,” Ryan said. “But the point of [my art] is to be viewed and experienced by people, and you just can’t get that online.”

The reception of Ryan’s exhibition in Helen Lindhurst Gallery at Watt Hall, titled “PAUSE,” was originally scheduled for Jan. 12 but was delayed until the end of its stay, Jan. 26, due to coronavirus precautions. The uneasy installation process caused her to reflect on her work, worrying if her exhibit would ever be seen by students in person.

“I’ve had way more time to install [now that] people haven’t been around because of online classes,” Ryan said. “But it’s also been really stressful. I’m worried [that] it can be taken away so quickly, [that] nothing is for certain … It’s definitely a roller coaster.”

Despite the delay and the daunting unease that the pandemic has cast over the professional arts landscape, Ryan remained determined to showcase her work. She fell in love with painting in high school but didn’t expect to leave her hometown of New York for school, much less to study the arts. She credits her older sister, who graduated from USC in 2017, for encouraging her to pursue fine art.

“She studied at Roski, had a show and really paved the way for me to go,” Ryan said. “I feel like if she didn’t, I never would have had the idea that I could pursue art or move across the country.”

Heading to Hollywood couldn’t have been a better fit for her work. Ryan draws inspiration from the style and techniques of cinema, capturing realistic images and implying movement in her paintings as if they were a frame from a film reel. Since taking up a minor in cinematic arts, she’s begun to approach her canvases as more of a scenery designer, rather than a painter.

“‘Similar to art direction or production design for the frame of a movie, I’m doing the same thing with a painting,” she said. “It’s like production, almost setting everything up … It’s very similar [to] the process of staging the photo.”

Her collection of work currently on display explores this approach, merging together video clips and Ryan’s artistic interpretation of their frames. She added a projector to cast the videos which contrast her paintings, and QR codes connected to her website that play the video that inspired each painting.

“I was [wondering] how I could connect in people’s minds that [the video] is my inspiration; this is what I’m drawing from. I feel like that detail really helped bring it all together,” she said. 

Ryan’s extended installation time let her focus not just on her multimedia elements but also on small details to evoke a feeling of nostalgia in her audience. For Ryan, the key is her tender connection to the movies — she included a red carpet to decorate the gallery and is serving popcorn at the coming reception.

“I tried to bring up a lot of nostalgia and familiarity,” Ryan said. “Most of my work has [depicted a person] interacting with nature … When the viewer sees it, they recall ‘Oh, I remember when I saw sunset on the beach,’ and they remember the feelings they felt and the memory.”

Though a great deal of students missed most of the exhibition, the reception — its most important night — is still ahead. Students can see Ryan’s work at Watt Hall for its final viewing Jan. 26 starting at 9 a.m. until the reception at 5 to 7 p.m.