INTERVIEW: Ryan Carrington

Q&A WITH RYAN, INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY AIMEE SANTOS

What themes do you explore in your work? Are there particular themes that interest you right now?

Carrington works on one of his flags in his office/studio space at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA.  In the background hangs one of his Chalk Line drawings using a carpenter's Chalk Snap-Line tool.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Carrington works on one of his flags in his office/studio space at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA.  In the background hangs one of his Chalk Line drawings using a carpenter's Chalk Snap-Line tool.  Photo © Aimee Santos

My work highlights blue-collar workers as hardworking heroes of our society. It honors their perseverance and loyalty in taking unglamorous jobs seriously and executing them with both incredible precision and an artistic touch.  The dwindling appreciation that society yields to blue-collar workers is alarming, and through my work I attempt to elevate the status of all blue-collar workers in America.

Within this body of work I deal with a wide range of issues that connect labor, class, economics with my personal history and family. Using cast objects and construction materials that combine craftsmanship with symbolic irony, I am able to communicate my thoughts, ideas, and memories on themes of labor. I use my life’s experiences as a springboard for my ideas to develop and eventually deploy in both performance and gallery installation.  Having worked as a landscaper, maintenance man, and construction worker, I have gained an appreciation for this select group of workers who comprise the engine that runs this great country.

'Flag #1' in Carrington's Flag Series show layers of men's suits and Carhartt workman's pants as the strips and men's ties as the stars.  Photo © Aimee Santos

'Flag #1' in Carrington's Flag Series show layers of men's suits and Carhartt workman's pants as the strips and men's ties as the stars.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Tell me about the medium(s) that you work in. What do you like about these mediums? What challenges you in working with these mediums?

I work in a wide range of mediums and my work ranges from cast metal objects, to performances, to clothing, to drawing with non-traditional materials.  I believe that the piece should dictate the medium, because the materials used inform the concepts behind the work.  Working in this interdisciplinary fashion often brings challenges in that I am constantly learning new techniques and the nuances of various materials, but this method of working is what excites me in the studio.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you need to shut yourself off from the world or are you inspired by music / people / environments around you?

"Screw Relief #3" Screws and Plywood 26"x22"x3" 2013.  Image courtesy of the Artist Ryan Carrington

"Screw Relief #3" Screws and Plywood 26"x22"x3" 2013.  Image courtesy of the Artist Ryan Carrington

One of the greatest parts of being an educator is being around the thoughts and ideas of your students.  For much of my studio practice I enjoy working with and next to other people, exchanging energy and ideas.  I do however always have projects that I am working on at home by myself, allowing me to have a more private studio experience.  I guess in some ways I have found a balance that works well for me between being in a busy studio and a private workspace.

I know it can be hard for artists to part with their work. Is there a particular piece that you will never sell?

I don’t have a problem parting with my work as I see selling an art piece as a way of giving it another life.  There are few things as rewarding as having someone like something that you have made so much that they want to live with it.  I make-work because I have a deep internal need to, and if someone wants to purchase it, well, that is a bonus in this exploration that I am going through.

Rarely do I make art for myself, but I recently made a cast iron version of my late Grandfather’s hat.  I think I’ll put that one on my shelf.

Did you always want to be an artist or is this something that you came to later on?

Fabric is everywhere in Carrington's office/studio at Santa Clara University as he works on his Flag Series project for his upcoming solo show at JCO's Place in Los Gatos, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Fabric is everywhere in Carrington's office/studio at Santa Clara University as he works on his Flag Series project for his upcoming solo show at JCO's Place in Los Gatos, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

I grew up surrounded by creativity and handy work.  My mother was a fiber artist, my father had a woodshop, and my brother and I were always encouraged to make things, and attend summer art camps.

That being said, I knew that I wanted to be an educator from an early age, I even joined the Future Teacher’s Club in sixth grade, but I was interested in teaching either biology or physics.  All through high school I continued to take both art and science classes, and when I started college I took mostly science courses.  I did however have one ceramics class and soon realized that I had a passion for the studio beyond my passion for the lab, and changed majors my sophomore year.

You teach art at San Jose State and Santa Clara University, so I imagine that you’ve spent a lot of time with new/emerging artists struggling to figure things out. What’s the one thing that you think a new artist needs to know?

As a previous professor of sculpture at San Jose State University Carrington helped students learn about welding and metal works, pictured on the left, he watches a student practice a tight weld at the Foundry Metal Works in San Jose, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

As a previous professor of sculpture at San Jose State University Carrington helped students learn about welding and metal works, pictured on the left, he watches a student practice a tight weld at the Foundry Metal Works in San Jose, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

To be an artist takes an incredible amount of dedication, drive, intelligence, craftsmanship, maturity, and pluck.  The amebic like definition of what it means to be an artist is one that is constantly changing, and keeping up with scholarly research regarding contemporary art movements is extremely important.  It isn’t so much that young artist’s work needs to always be at the forefront of the next movement, but rather to understand where they fit within the art continuum.  It is this, as well as an uninhibited commitment to their studio practice that will allow them to find their voices as artists, and elevate their work beyond themselves.

The world is changing, and the next generation is going to be one that has more schooling and is more informed than ever before.  The job market is going to be completely saturated with intelligent people, and what is going to set them apart is the power of creative problem solving.  The skills and way of thinking garnished from being enrolled in art courses go well beyond the studio, and these are the lessons that will help shape the future of our society.

Carrington, on the left, manages the flow of iron during a past iron pour at the San Jose State University Metal Works Foundry.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Carrington, on the left, manages the flow of iron during a past iron pour at the San Jose State University Metal Works Foundry.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Carrington leaves a screw higher than the others to test out the aesthetics before adding more to a Screw Relief Drawing.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Carrington leaves a screw higher than the others to test out the aesthetics before adding more to a Screw Relief Drawing.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Henry Carrington watches his father Ryan work on his Screw Relief Drawings on the kitchen table.  Normally Ryan works on these pieces after Henry has gone to sleep so this is the first time his son has been present to see the creation of his father's art.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Henry Carrington watches his father Ryan work on his Screw Relief Drawings on the kitchen table.  Normally Ryan works on these pieces after Henry has gone to sleep so this is the first time his son has been present to see the creation of his father's art.  Photo © Aimee Santos