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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.