South Padre Island artist makes impression with upcoming exhibit

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SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — To succeed at journalism or art, you must be able to take quick notes.

Just ask former newspaper editor Ryan Henry, who switched careers in early 2023 to become a full-time artist. Rather than scribbling down facts and quotes for a breaking story, he’s now busy with a brush to meet a new kind of deadline — the April 13 opening of his first solo exhibition, which will be filled with modern impressionist paintings of the Laguna Madre area.

The solo show is a final requirement for artists, such as Henry, who complete 12-month art business residencies at the Arts Business Incubator South Padre Island.

Many pieces for the show have been finished in his studio, while others were completed “en plein air,” a French term used in the art world to denote paintings undertaken in the outdoors, inspired by the moment. And that means, often enough, fleeting moments.

“Last summer, I found myself on a sunset cruise with my easel, paid to complete a painting on the boat for a group,” Henry said. “The only light available came from the sun, which was setting fast by the time the boat left dock. I had just under an hour to start and complete the work. That felt more exhilarating than any day of breaking news from my past two decades in journalism.

“I just had to be decisive and paint fast to record what it felt like on that boat.”

The painting was a success, with the last strokes of paint touching canvas just as it was too dark to see what he was painting. The artist says it’s never a certainty that a painting will be good.

“I usually step back from a painting before I decide it is successful or not,” Henry said. “But the next time I was able to see it in full was as we were presenting under lights as a gift to the group who chartered the boat. It was a relief that it turned out so wonderfully.”

Island artist Ryan Henry and the Arts Business Incubator South Padre Island will host a solo art exhibit, “Local Color,” from 6 to 8 p.m. April 13, 2024, at the art gallery at 2500 Padre Blvd., Suite 1, on South Padre Island. (Courtesy)

The artist, who works in watercolor, acrylics and oils, has since met more success with his plein air art, landing an award of excellence for one of his paintings completed in a competition against 49 other artists in Kerrville in September. His winning piece pushed the local colors of a downtown scene, he said.

In art, the term “local color” refers to the general color of an object under typical daylight. But daylight, is seldom typical and its constantly changing.

“As an artist, you notice surprising colors everywhere,” Henry said. “And those colors may not be noticed until you really look carefully at something, looking past the local color. Shadows might reflect the intense blue sky overhead. Grass isn’t just green.”

However, in journalism, “local color” has an entirely different meaning. The term applies to descriptions that allow a reader to get a sense of being at the scene of a story.

“As an artist, I think about local color as a painter and as a storyteller,” Henry said. “I want to paint how the moment felt as much as how it looks. I inject my own feelings. You shouldn’t do that a journalist, but as an artist, I can. And it’s fulfilling.”

Henry is now curating and creating pieces for his first solo art exhibition, appropriately named “Local Color.” The show’s opening reception is free and open to the public from 6-8 p.m. April 13 at the Arts Business Incubator South Padre Island, 2500 Padre Blvd., Suite 1, on the Island. For more information, call (956) 590-7012.

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