Monday, April 21, 2008

Interview with Ryan McGavin

I met Ryan McGavin at 111 Minna's Sketch Tuesdays in March and ended up buying one of his drawings. He works with collage to create layers and is beginning to create more painterly complex compositions. I was excited to be able to ask him some questions to find out more about where he connects with his artwork.

I'll let him explain the rest.

We met at Sketch Tuesday's at 111 Minna. How many have you been a part of? What is the experience like for you? Do you prepare drawings ahead of time or let it all happen there? Do you do other interactive art events like this?

I believe this is my sixth time participating at this event. For four of these events I have worked at the ‘featured artist’ table which is a much different experience than working on one of the side tables around the space or, sometimes even on the floor.

working at the featured artist table you get the perks and yum, the drink ticket is always appreciated. Sketch Tuesday has really grown and become a sort of cult following in the area; some amazing artists that are not featured will show up, get down and sell work almost effortlessly. It’s sort of feels like my church.

I always prepare my first few works before the event because of the amount of layering and pasting. I have had a couple disasters at Sketch Tuesday working with light colored and black paper at the same time, which bleeds when wet. So, yeah, usually the backgrounds and shapes are prepared at home.

If the prepared work sells out then I start working with whatever I have and sometimes that sells too without a lot of homework put into it. Sometimes the work is bought before the pieces are finished. This is the only interactive event I am participating in at the moment.

In your bio you say, "I look at my work like a giant 'thought' puzzle, full of shapes, mythical icons and layers," which is very much how I see your work. Even with your new pieces the layering and shapes are present. What about the concept of a puzzles and layers is important for your art?

I find that layers are a great tool for depth and cultivating what kind of energy I want to express out into the visual wild. At the start of a piece, all of the materials are set out including colors or drawings, but a narrative has not been set in stone.

I studied fashion design in the 90s, constructing garments through pattern making, which got my mind wrapped around the idea that art and design are made of many pieces. You have to assemble all of these small and large pieces together to create a finished product that looks very different than each individual piece and much different than the flat pattern.

I think we are influenced daily by layers of images in the media, which subtly drives them into our psyche telling us how we should try to see or project ourselves through an abstract story.

I like that in your new work I am seeing more depth with some transparency in the layered shapes. Do you see this happening? What is bringing about this change in appearance? Are you excited to be taking on a new direction?

Thanks for noticing that Libby, in fact, I am working in that direction. In any craft we are refining what we are doing and that is exactly what is happening in my pieces right now. I am going through a growth-spurt so I want to make space for other forms of creation in my work (like painting and drawing).

The first step is a sort of wave of transparency through sharper cuts and thinner layers. I am using a larger count of thin layers such as tissue. Introducing paint and ink seems to soften the paper background to feel more like a painting and less graphic, which you would see more of in my previous work. I am excited that this new style is happening; I hope it paves the path for bigger things.

Being a self-taught artist what influenced you largely in the beginning? Are there artists or periods in history or just folks you know that influence you and provide you with direction? How do you or have you developed your skill?

I am pretty sure my father, who is also an artist, was my first spark of influence. When he worked in the paper pulp mill he brought home all sorts of commercial paper plates, some designed for popular fast food restaurants. One in particular, had several compartments for the meat, the potatoes, and slaw. We both drew these plates creating comics, weird looking people, and gag stories. He loved to draw butts farting out a cartoon cloud with the word “poot!” like a thought bubble. A fart bubble!

I spent most of my time in grade school drawing during class and that created a real problem in academia. Around 22, I had some pretty life changing moments with my brother. I found him homeless on the streets of San Francisco strung-out and his losses, made me take a look at my own fate.

I took the artist idea pretty seriously after that point. I started messing around with painting and creating my own stretcher bars out of 2x4’s and stretching denim over that. I am not sure where exactly my technique comes from (maybe latex house paint and knifes) but I spend a lot of time figuring out where it could possibly go next.

You grew up in Sacramento and now are living in Oakland. Have you lived outside of California? Apart from the bay area being an incredible place to live, what keeps you here? Any plans of travel soon?

Ah, Sacramento is a strange place. Many of the homes in the downtown area are over 110 years old. I lived in some pretty haunted houses growing up. One Victorian house I lived in during 7th grade was split into two units and my bedroom closet had a staircase, leading to nowhere. I would sometimes hang out in the closet by day but at night I was terrified of it. I had a poltergeist-like experience as a kid and I think it will sometimes come out in my work.

The Bay Area is great and I seem to come back to it again and again; it’s been my home off and on for 10 years. I lived outside of California in the Pacific Northwest sporadically throughout the last 15 years and a brief sojourn to Hawaii’s Big Island working at a Bikram yoga retreat. I have also traveled through most of Western Europe. Now I am really obsessed with three places (by order): Japan, Russia, and Dubai. Dubai is the least possible right now and the Burj Dubai is not yet finished.. I am listening to Japanese language instructions often hoping that it will propel me to the first destination.

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