FCA is excited to feature Ryan W Ruehlen as our July Virtual Series Artist! Ryan is a founding member of the Feminist Creative Alliance and is currently obtaining his MFA at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Having known Ryan for a few years now, it has been a pleasure to watch his artwork unfold. A recent visit to Boulder indicated just how much his passion is being cultivated through his degree work. A walk through the campus, his studio and classroom displayed an emerging confidence and a truly inspirational growth and passion for creation. The visual work displayed here includes several perspectives of a piece titled “CRADLE.” Additionally, Ryan has developed his sound work and his latest digital album is linked here as well.
Below is a Q&A with Ryan. FCA invites you to experience Ryan’s work on a visual, audio and written level. His desire and contemplation are inspiring and interesting to consider alongside his work. To check out more of his work, please visit his website, or “Like” him on Facebook.
Q: What drives you to create? Do you think an individual must be trained to be an artist/ musician?
A: That’s a mystery to me. I create because I have to, I don’t know what its like to NOT create. I mean certain issues, such as gender, or memories, such as my memories of landscape, influence what directions I want to pursue, but, that deep desire to make things comes from an unexplainable place. When I’m not working on a specific project I’m constantly brainstorming the next project, or something larger that may lie further down the road. My interests lie in a lot of different places, so when I get complacent or aggravated in one medium or direction I work on something else, it keeps me from getting bored, and it allows me to cross-pollinate ideas, sometimes unintentionally. I tend to switch between making visual art and music/sound, and between those two outlets I feel like I don’t have much mental space left.
As far as training goes, I think it’s a tricky thing. My gut answer is to say, No, an individual does not need to be trained to make work, in the sense that I think humans are inherently inventive and are biologically tool users, so I think its in any ones’ capacity to make art, or at least act creatively. However, as with any thing that is powerful, insightful, worth sharing, etc I think it takes a distinct form of discipline and tons of hours of just, plain work. When I talk about “making art” with people I tend to undermine or shy away from romantic ideas of the artist being some tortured soul who is merely a passionate vessel of creativity. I couldn’t disagree more. I think 85% of being an artist is just hard work, and it’s not a whole lot of fun. I think the artists that stand the test of time, who are making work that is worth engaging, you’ll find more often than not, have an incredible work ethic that drives their processes, much more than just being imaginative or corky. So, I don’t think artists need an academic background to make work, but in any case they need self-discipline and have to being willing to take the risk of living an unconventional life, possibly being financially insecure for most of their lives, unless you have the privilege otherwise. Its a trade off that isn’t very attractive in our society. Also I think a lot of people give up on making work themselves early on because they’ve been disenfranchised, weren’t encouraged from youth, or don’t realize the amount of work envolved. Better yet many get stuck in what I might call “baby-artist” mode. That’s where one is only working in cultural cliches, overly trafficked ideas or negated privilege. I think most artists go through this stage, I think one has to sort of “get it out of their system” before they can get to something more genuine, and that takes years and years of critical thought.
Q: How do you concentrate your ideas into a piece of art? Do you let your thoughts/ philosophies guide you or do you let the artwork organically evolve?
A: As far as my process goes, I tend to work out small “sketches” prior to making anything significant. These sketches can range from pages of written notes, to random thoughts or compelling phrases that may eventually end up being traditional sketches if I need to envision what a piece might end up looking like. A lot of my ideas come from reading and I feel that there’s a sort of layering of philosophical baggage or condensation that happens in my mind that dictates what I want to work on. I think a lot of my work in the past was fantastical in its imagery and overly saturated with tons of varying content, it could be disorienting. I think now I’m really trying to concentrate my energy in to more core ideas, to really find a language that makes the most sense to me and where I come from. I’m from the rural midwest and I am finally coming home to that place mentally and using the vernacular of that environment to direct me, instead of trying so hard to appropriate imagery that I indirectly identify with so often, trying to run away from those roots. I think the work is beginning to come from a more honest and emotive place. As far as the making of the work itself, its a fluid process, I start with some fairly distinct perimeters, like how big something will be, what it will be made of, how I want it to “feel”. I’m a scavenger so a lot of the material I use is unexpected, and keeps me engaged in the process, in the unfolding of the artwork. There is a sort of conversation I have with the materials, they tell me what they need to be, and I put them with other things and see what sort of dialogue happens between them. I think allowing the components of the work to be read in this fashion keeps me from being to rigid with my work.
Q: In your artist statement, you write of many concepts that may often juxtapose each other. How to create/ play with this tension in your work? How do you determine how to display it?
A: I think all to often, at least in Western Society, we’ve chosen to view differing concepts as binary (such as religion/science, domestic/industrial) but really they are all intimately connected, and not really separate at all. I think that schism comes from our desire to
categorize ideas, experiences, places, peoples, etc in a way that attempts to rationalize a non-sensical world. We have a hard time with the non-sensical nature of the universe, so we create these systems of thought, these perceptual filters, because we think that these systems are how we arrive at “meaning” or “purpose”. I think this is largely where human suffering comes from. So with that in mind, I am interested in using an ambiguous language to describe my surroundings and experiences, to use imagery with a multi-faceted function so the art experience becomes complex, and in that way, relatable. I think the “playfulness” is inherent in the work itself, these objects become curiosities, they beg for the viewer to get closer and closer, and its that sense of child-like wonder that I’m after. I think the question of display is a tough one, especially right now. I’m really working on creative ways to display my work, finding how to most activate it, largely because I am working three dimensionally again. I’ve been working with differing light sources and experimenting with video as a way to make the concrete forms more immersive, to suck the viewer into its dreamy environment.
Q: Do you consider your work feminist? Do you consider it to fit within current feminist dialogue (regardless of part one of this question)?
A: I consider myself a feminist, and in that way of being, of relating, all of my activities and behaviors are imbued with these perceptions. I think the way in which I work, my behavior and day to day operation, whether making art or not, is informed by a feminist perspective, as well as other perspectives that I identify with or am counter to. I think the way I tend to work, in some senses, has been conventionally feminine, such as working with fabric and domestic objects, but once again I think its time to radically shift our ways of understanding human behavior, and move away from essentialist terms of describing the self. I think as a man working with ideas of home, domestic space, spirituality and memory I evoke an intimate encounter, a vulnerable experience, and that challenges the hyper-masculinized view of manhood in America right now. In that manner, I think the work corresponds, and is relevant, to a larger feminist dialogue.
*Artists in this series will be rotated monthly. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis. Please submit work to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Virtual Art Series” in the subject line.