Artist Haylee Ryan Talks About Her RBG Mural, "A Work in Progress"
“I was on my first day of family vacation,” Ryan recalls, “and I had planned on taking a break from work. But I couldn’t pass this up.”
The multi-talented artist started working right away, sketching a design, getting the design approved, then getting to work.
“All in all, it took about two days total,” she says. “Sometimes mural projects take months, because you’re not sure of the concept, and you’re going through different rounds of design. But this wasn’t your typical mural. Sometimes when you’re being creative, you just need to ride that energy wave.”
Now, Ryan’s RBG mural is visible as soon as you turn off Highway 75 near Fitzhugh. In fact, it’s literally on Fitzhugh, which presented a unique challenge for the artist. The only thing between Ryan and the street was a tiny sidewalk.
Credits: Artist Uprising Studios
“People were walking by and talking to me the whole time I was working on it, which was awesome,” she says. “People would roll their windows down and honk, which was also awesome, but maybe not as safe. Some people shouted, 'This is so inspiring! We love RBG!' The energy from the street really spurred me on.”
The mural depicts Ginsburg staring out at her audience, bold and undeterred. RBG's famous jabot is around her neck, as is a plaque one might expect from a mugshot. Ryan was inspired by not just any mugshot, but the mugshot of the famous Jane Fonda, activist and trailblazer for the feminism movement. In place of an arrest date, Ryan painted the numbers 93 (the year Ginsburg joined the Supreme Court), 7 (her seat on the Court), and 6 (the number of landmark cases the justice argued). While Ryan isn’t new to murals, she’s more accustomed to figure painting. But her experience painting RBG was similar to her typical work.
“When I paint people, it’s like I’m spending time with them,” Ryan says. “Seeing Ruth stare out and look at us makes me think she’s looking right at us, beckoning us to do more, to keep going.”
Initially, Ryan didn’t know why the owner of a pilates gym would want a mural of a judge emblazoned on their outside wall. So she asked.
Credits: Dallas Morning News
“The owner is a woman, and she said, ‘Well, if it wasn’t for RBG, I wouldn’t have my own business,’” Ryan says. “And after that, I just stood there, looking at the mural, looking at the paintbrush, and realizing, ‘Well, if it wasn’t for RBG, I wouldn’t have my own business, either.’”
When reached by phone in mid-October, Ryan was still thinking about that moment. She was thinking about all of those passersby, too: the ones who shouted words of encouragement, either from their car or on foot.
“Each person would say something along the lines of, ‘This is a reminder for us to keep carrying the torch,’” Ryan says. “And I realized I wanted to name the piece, ‘A Work in Progress,’ because RBG was about progress. One step at a time to make the world a better place. And the reality is, the work isn’t finished. It’s our job to keep taking those little steps every day to keep the progress going."
Credits: Creative Commons