Daniel Ryan is a self-described "nature nerd."
An outdoors enthusiast, the San Diego resident goes hiking and camping whenever possible, armed with his trusted Olympus digital camera or Mamiyaflex from the 1950s.
Diligently recording vistas, the 28-year-old artist uses his experiences to fuel oil-on-board landscapes. He has also coined the term "folk surrealism" to describe his work.
"I like to push light and color," Ryan said. "My work usually uses dramatic light and vibrant, almost abstracted color."
More than a dozen of Ryan's pieces — originals and prints — will be on display in "Beyond the Mist" at the Exclusive Collections Gallery on Saturday and Sunday. He will be on hand to talk to guests from 6 to 9 p.m. and noon to 5 p.m. on both days, respectively.
Although Ryan has had works shown at the gallery before, this weekend will mark his first solo exhibit there.
"Danny is one of my favorite artists," said Krista Franz, the gallery's director. "When I look at his work, it brings me back to my childhood years playing in the trees of Idaho. There is a fine line between imagery and realism for me. They are very whimsical and keep me guessing what is behind each tree and beyond the misty backgrounds."
Part of a military family that always had room for a studio no matter where they were transferred, Ryan was heavily influenced by his mother, a graphic artist, and picked up paintbrushes at an early age.
During his stint at San Diego State University, he first chose to major in psychology, but later abandoned it to pursue art full-time. He graduated in 2008 with a degree in painting and printmaking.
"Art is a huge part of me, as well as my family," he said. "It's something I couldn't see myself not doing."
Having encountered James and Ruth-Ann Thorn, owners of the EC Gallery, several years ago, he spent time working for them and even displayed a single painting in their Seaport Village gallery in 2010. The couple kept tabs on Ryan's creative trajectory as he began hosting showings all over San Diego County.
The youngest artist in the gallery by nearly a decade, Ryan recently had a similar show in EC Gallery's location in San Diego and will follow the Laguna exhibit with a stop in Las Vegas from April 19 to 21.
"Although it sometimes feels overwhelming trying to keep up with the older, more established artists, I feel it will help me in the long run," said the longtime fan of Eyvind Earle, Ansel Adams and Gustav Klimt. "I learn so much from the older artists, some of who were showing with EC Gallery when they were my age. I also notice that a lot of my collectors like the fact that I am young, because they can see me going down the same path as my older colleagues and will get to watch my career grow from the ground floor."
According to Franz, part of Ryan's appeal is that his work speaks to every person differently "whether it's the symbolism of trees, to a specific memory they evoke for the viewer, or the curiosity they bring to what each tree takes on beyond the canvas."
Working on a handful of paintings at the same time, which can take between 30 and 40 hours to complete, Ryan recalls a connection made thanks to "Normands Pine." In the 24-by-30-inch creation, depicting an old pine tree standing on a lake shore, Ryan tipped his hat to a yearly family trip to Spirit Lake, which is in Uinta National Park, boarding northern Utah and Wyoming.
A conversation with a woman about his "favorite" painting had Ryan telling her about his grandfather and the painting, which had sold that week. Ryan soon learned that he was talking to the person who had purchased "Normands Pine."
"She also went on to tell me the reason she bought it was because it reminded her of her grandfather and a lake the her family used to go to every summer," he said. "A funny connection, I guess."
If You Go
What: Daniel Ryan's "Beyond the Mist"
Where: Exclusive Collections Gallery, 417 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Information: (855) 372-8213 or firstname.lastname@example.org