Photograph by Oliver Roxby
“Everything is bigger in Texas”, it’s true. It takes 14 hours of driving to get from one side to the other on endless straight highways through endless plains with the endless blue sky above you. I spent four years living in Houston, from the age of 12 to 16 – formative years? It’s hard to describe the size of the United States, the scale of the emptiness it holds. It’s hours of driving on the same straight road through South Dakota, ceaseless grasslands on either side looking soft enough to stroke from the car window, unbroken save for the lone gas station hundreds of miles from city life. It’s driving miles outside Houston, pulling up to a $5 double-bill at the drive-in theater, crawling out of the sunroof to sit on the car waiting for the sun to set while a storm rolls in. It’s the “alien” landscapes of Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Monument Valley in Utah. It’s the steady creep of the Rocky Mountains through the desolate landscape of Wyoming. I felt the potential, and I felt small.
Then we moved to Europe, first Warsaw and then I began university in the UK. The world got smaller instead. I’m haunted by my international childhood, I grew up “abroad” (whatever that means) living in Peru, Papua New Guinea, Norway, the United States, Poland, Cyprus, and Qatar. Living somewhere is a wildly different experience to just visiting, you might get a taste for the lifestyle with a brief stay but it’s only in living that you discover what a place is really like. My spectrum of normality has shifted so much that now everything can feel ordinary and underwhelming. My work is one way I’ve tried to make this ceaseless mundanity special, to bring back what I thought my life was, if it ever was.
"An undoing. Take me back…Go as far as you can. Make me brand-new…She thought of the moths in their boxes. She missed her tattoos, her old clothes. She missed sitting in the sun with Hellie. She missed the gentle, dilapidated curves of her mother’s couch. Alex didn’t really know what she missed, only that she was homesick for something, maybe for someone, she’d never been." ("Ninth House" - Leigh Bardugo)
My work stars my people, their faces, their movements, their homes, their explorations, their small intimacies. They’re my community, the people who I care about and photograph. People who may have never met and live on different continents. It's a permanence and stability that is often missing in my life, it's difficult to hold on to people outside your immediate family moving every few years. I have a fascination with community, I am intrigued with those people who spend decades in one place, growing up and growing old together. Who do I hold on to? Who do I seek out and make an effort for? Who do I fly to see? Then there's my family, my little brothers who are the only people to experience anything like what I have. How has the instability impacted my life, my work? What do “home” or “stability” even mean?
Sometimes I feel like I'm creating a fictional community, an idealized world. I read a lot, it’s my number one joy in life (closely followed by painting) and I’ve been bringing it into my work. Manipulating the mundane scenes of my life into wilder fantasies full of intrigue and uncertainty, not just to bring back the remembered excitement of the moment but make it more. I want to make someone feel like I do when I’m lost in another world and embody a different person.
“When you watch a film, you’re sort of an outsider looking in. With a book – you’re right there. You are inside. You are the main character.” (“Solitaire” - Alice Oseman)
I use the vastness of large canvases, and the combination of image and text, to embody the immense ideas and concepts I’m interested in, to get the viewer to pause, to be encompassed, to engage, and question the work to determine its meaning to them, to feel how I feel reading. I also experiment with film, photography, and publications. Questioning how can I create that vastness, that density of ideas, in a smaller size or a different medium?
There is so much left to investigate – other worlds, escapism, the expatriate lifestyle, belonging, exploration, identity, colonialism, revolution, globalization, intimacy, community, more, more, more – I just can't make work fast enough.
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” (“The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath” - Sylvia Plath)
Photograph by Katie Bowdery
Ronan Porter is currently studying their MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in London.
They were born in England in 1994, but raised in a number of countries first moving to Peru when they were four years old. Since then they have also lived in Papua New Guinea, Norway, Texas, Poland, Qatar, and Cyprus, only returning to England for university.
They first studied Physics at Imperial College in London before deciding that wasn't the right path for them and switching to Fine Art at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury, after a gap year in Warsaw. They graduated with a BA (Hons) Fine Art summer of 2018.