Haylee Ryan paints attractive abstract figures and landscapes that often draw from historical photos and explore the concepts of memory and nostalgia.
She also works as a part-time art teacher at Hogg Elementary.
But over the past five years or so, demand for murals took her career on a new turn.
“Murals have been a surprise side gig, and I’m riding the wave,” she says.
A few years ago, Exxir Capital asked Ryan and another artist, Courtney Miles, to paint murals on 120 feet of particleboard panels that concealed construction on their developments at Bishop and Melba. They painted colorful, oversized Texas animals and botanicals. Her mural work has been in demand since then.
The 33-year-old grew up in Irving, attending Uplift North Hills Prep and the University of Dallas, where she studied under Oak Cliff-based artist Kim Owens. She lived in Bend, Oregon, where she apprenticed with artist Glenn Ness for about a year before returning to Dallas and settling in Oak Cliff. She shares a studio at Tyler Station with her best friend and band-mate, Amanda Page of Zephyr Flora.
“Everything in the city is growing and changing so rapidly, so for me to paint it as it was then was really interesting.”
Her first mural was for the 42 Murals project in Deep Ellum:
I love to paint large, but this was like enormous, and I didn’t know anything about murals. How do you get on a ladder this tall? I didn’t know about scaffolding or projection. It was a photo collage of what Deep Ellum looked like in the ’30s and ’40s. My friend Cindy McCord’s father was a photographer [M.F. Truelove], and I used his photos as a basis for the mural. The fact that I got to do that so large, for that many people and that I got to paint his name on the side of it was really special. Everything in the city is growing and changing so rapidly, so for me to paint it as it was then was really interesting.
My style is this mixture of abstraction and realism. Also, negative space with layers. There’s hyper-detail, usually in oil and full color. It usually is the figure itself, the face and the skin. And then abstraction where things are not as clear in the memory.
My passion is to paint figures and tell stories. My best friend owns a floral shop, and she’s incredible. So I decided to try out my painting style that I use with figures … take out the figures and do it on plants and floral. I started painting her floral designs and installations. I would take photos of stuff that were just leftovers on the table and use them. I did a show at Neighborhood called “Pricks and Buds,” and it almost sold out. It’s my only show ever to do that.
Where murals take her:
I got a random email a few years ago asking if I wanted to paint inside a restaurant in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. I was like, “probably not.” Because why would I want to go to Tishomingo? I’d never heard of that. But I looked into it and found out it was signage for something called Ole Red. It turns out it was Blake Shelton’s music venue chain that is blowing up all over the country. I’ve gone to Gatlinburg, and I’m going to Orlando for them in the fall. Somebody saw those and hired me in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which I loved. These murals are starting to let me move around and travel. I did one in Mexico City for my friend who has a nonprofit down there.
Her mural of a woman on a horse on the side of Tejas restaurant:
It’s enormous. I had to get on a boom lift with Arturo, who has become my close friend. He is head of construction for Exxir. Totally wild. Those flowers are like 5-feet wide. That mural almost killed me. Unbelievable.
Her band, Sister:
It’s like blues rock with a lot of harmonies. We started as an acoustic duet. [Page] grew up as a musician. Her whole family was traveling musicians. When she and I met 16 years ago. I was fumbling through the guitar and couldn’t sing a lick. I’ve learned how to sing through her and her family. Our shtick is that we have one voice. We’re a full band now, and the heart of Sister is our voices. We have a 90-minute set now, so we’re moving up in the world. We just played at the Kessler, which is a dream come true. We opened for David Garza, which was unbelievable.