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AFA Interview: Cosmic Pun, Part II

How the tables have turned! Now artist Eric Yahnker puts the heat on curator, artist Ryan Travis Christian in the second part of their AFA Interview, Cosmic Pun.

EY: Alright, Mr. Christian, so we’ve only known each other a couple years at the most, and in that time, I’ve seen your work grow big, hairy, steel-studded, pendulum swingin’ nads — if I had to chart it, the graph would be fully-erect.  Is there anything in particular you can attribute to this fast-rising artistic chub?  Are you just spending more hours at the studio, or did a burning bush on Mt. Sinai hand you the keys to life?

RTC: Yeah man, there are tons of particular things I can attribute to said “chub”. I’m surrounded by so many awesome (actually awe-inspiring) people. I get tons of support, I have it very easy and I’m very grateful. I could type a overwhelmingly long passage of all the things that have gotten me truly jazzed in the past few years, but I will spare the readers that.

I try to put in at least 8 hours every day in the studio. Plus, I’m a nubile 27 year old, so I’ve only been a real human being for like 2 years or so, that might have something to do with it. I’ve got the keys, now i just have to remember where I parked the hooptie at. And that’s the best part, seeing what’ll come next.

EY: Having studied animation myself, I’m a sucker for throwback imagery from the infancy of the medium (a la Ub Iwerks, Max Fleischer, Bob Clampett, etc.)  Every now and again, I see a worthy contemporary update inspired by this golden age, namely underground Zap Comix in the late 60′s, and John K’s Ren n’ Stimpy in the early 90′s.  Your work seems to find another unique vein within this context.  Can you discuss that a bit?

RTC: The main appeal of old cartoons to me is simplification. They used to speak directly and be very representational but still retained the rights to go completely fucking nuts surreal and nonsensical. They could bounce to and fro and no one ever questions it, because it’s natural. I like the no rules aspect of cartoons. Cartoons and humor have obviously always went hand in hand as well which is appealing to me, draw a dick and its funny, draw a cartoon dick and it’s really funny. Right now i feel good about working with this near archaic form. I dig that can pay homage, plug my own stuff right into it, modify/update it and connect with people via it. Who didn’t watch and love cartoons at some point in there life? Cartoons are like pizza or Jimi Hendrix, if you don’t like it then I don’t want to know you.

Ryan Travis Christian “This House Was Built For Blappin' In,” 2009 graphite on paper 9" x 12"

EY: Speaking of animation, I remember discussing the possibility that you may throw your hat in the ring and do some!  Hopefully this is still on the table, and if so, is what we’re seeing in your drawings basically development for what you would, at least in theory, like to do in animation?  Or would it be something else all together?  Please illuminate us a bit on your progress and inspiration in that arena…and lastly, when can we see some shit?!

RTC: It is on the table, literally! I have top notch advisors, proper registration and all. The animation work will be extremely similar to the drawings in style, maybe a touch less maximal, it will also have audio that supplements the imagery quite nicely. The plan is to debut two unique ones next year, one for each solo exhibition. Thats all in the info I’m willing to afford at the moment.

EY: You’ve worn the curator hat numerous times, most recently with your on-going Power of Selection series at Chicago’s Western Exhibitions.  You’ve also interviewed and featured various artist’s work through multiple venues, including Fecalface and Beautiful/Decay.  Where do you get off being so generous in helping to loft other bratty artist’s, or is it just a sly way to get artist’s you admire to google search your name?

RTC: I started doing the interviews a couple of years ago, not to be generous, but for almost entirely selfish reasons. I figured instead of admiring a bunch of artists and bands from afar, why not create a dialogue with them and figure out what I want to know directly? No spin zone. Also, I get immense pleasure from exposing things I genuinely love to other people, plus I figured it couldn’t hurt my karma situation.

Curating seemed to be the next logical step, since I was kind of already do that in the “blogosphere“, I figured why not do that physically. All the shows thus far have been pretty conceptually void beyond the idea of bringing work to places where it otherwise isn’t shown, you’d be surprised how much work bypasses Chicago or SF or anyplace not NYC and LA. I got tired of seeing that shit on the internet only or in the best case scenario a small booth at a fair, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person in that boat. Curating is great too because it is just a further extension of having that discourse with rad artists and meeting all kinds of new people and having that extra finger in the rap game.

EY: For those artists looking to get into your Oakland A’s domed melon, can you describe a couple key elements that stop you in your tracks or make you instantly hot for another artist’s work?  I assume joining the ‘graphite gang’ is a good start, right?  What else?

RTC: Its hard to say, yeah, naturally I’m a sucker for awesome pencil jams. There are so many fine lines that go into my taste, it’s really hard to say. Humor is always a major bonus, thats the best possible connection a piece can make with me, is to make me laugh. On that same note however, most artists aren’t genuinely funny, so a lot of humor driven work comes of feigned or just so low brow, that i would have to take a time machine back to 2nd grade to get a chuckle out of it. Ambition is a plus too, but again, just because it has been worked on hard or for a long while doesn’t make it good. Sometimes, i’ll come across a 5 minute pussy doodle that trumps a great deal of large scale, assistant- aided super paintings I’ve seen. Nude women help, too.

EY: Speaking of your Oakland A’s domed melon, you’re a Chicago guy…why not the Cubbies or El Sox Blancas?  What’s your connection to the left coast?  Did Canseco sign your lid on his ‘Juiced’ tour or som’n?

RTC: As far as the A’s are concerned, I was growing up in the East Bay during their Ricky Henderson “I steal whatever the fuck I want ” era , that made me smitten with baseball and the A’s especially, I also like the aesthetics of their logo/color scheme. Broccoli and Cheddar. It’s nostalgia for a time and place. I like the Cubs as well, I love underdog sports teams, mostly the ones that come up with infinite fuck up equations and always find a way to put the team’s fist in the team’s mouth. But back to the question, I was born in the East Bay, that’s the connection, Jose probably would have put that sharpie right through my soft little baby skull.

Ryan Travis Chrisitan “Freewheelers,” 2010 graphite and gouache on paper 22" x 30"

EY: I checked out a small show you did at POV evolving in L.A. earlier this year in the flesh, and snooped online exhibition stills from other recent shows at Guerrero Gallery, San Francisco, and Ebersmoore Gallery, Chicago.  I particularly noted your use of precision, hard-edged, almost mathematical patterning that often serves as backgrounds within the drawings, or even extends to the walls and floor of the exhibition space.  Is this a conceptual strategy of some sort, like a connective tissue, or synapses in the brain to help tie disparate works together, or are you just massively into obsessive patterning for shits n’ giggles?

RTC: It’s definitely a bit of both. Patterns send people’s minds (mine included) realling off all over the place, forming all kinds of associations, because we are and have been exposed to it so much in so many places over time, signage, clothing etc. You also get the buzzing bonus’ of op-art without having to commit to it entirely, it’s nice to have some drone work as well as some gestural free for all stuff, it breaks up the process for me quite nicely as it can get boring to do to much of one thing. I like having variations of a relatable visual element that has withstood the test of time in there, it’s just another way of making some sort of connection to someone. However, the stuff I’m working on right now almost has no pattern in it, putting it to the side for a minute.

Ryan Travis Chrisitan "Time 2 go 2 work," 2010 graphite and gouache on paper.

EY: One of my favorite drawings of yours is go to work which features what appear to be several smoldering 1978 Buick sedans with melting tires, stuffed to the gills with your trademark shit-eating grin, waving, white-glove hot dog dude’s, cruising through a construction zone, flanked by a brick wall on one side, and a live audience on the under, as if on some sort of stage, and all under a Mr. Miyagi-inspired ‘rising sun’ sky.  Basically, it looks like a carpool put through a Quizno’s toaster one too many times, but is that too simple a read?  What the fuck!?  Seriously, what. the. fuck…?  Can you explain your mindset a bit approaching a piece like this?

RTC: That piece is inspired by traffic. I don’t have a regular commute in my life anymore, but i used to and from time to time I’ll get stuck in a jam. Something about traffic is really striking to me and has been since i was a little guy watching that shit out the back window of my parents 79′ Monte Carlos. Aesthetically, traffic is appealing because its is like this streamlined color- coded slow moving pattern. Within each component of the pattern is a person within their own private space, but still entirely visible to everyone nearby. As a result of being in traffic, people are reduced to this simplified set of communications where they can either flip the bird, wave, or honk your horn and that’s about it. Another interesting facet of traffic to me is that everyone you encounter tells you a little bit about themselves immediately with the type of car they drive and the condition it’s in, their personalized license plates and preachy retarded bumper stickers. To top that off, there is this massive collective bad vibe always looming above traffic. You’d be surprised how much dirty looks, scowls, and self abuse happens in traffic. I’ve seen couples fighting, couples fingering, people doing cocaine, people chain smoking, people drinking, people reading the bible. Traffic is a “what the fuck” kind of place to me and that easily can fuel a “what the fuck” looking image.

Ryan Travis Christian “Merger,” 2009, graphite on paper 50" x 64"

EY: I was trolling your facebook photos, and saw another nutty piece you finished and posted recently called Randomizer, which also ended up in your most recent solo outing at Guerrero Gallery, Well, Time Makes Fools Of Us All.  One of the things that makes this beast so interesting is it essentially looks like a really ornate comic book or graphic novel layout, where action takes place in sequential story panels.  I imagine with a title like Randomizer, we’re not supposed to glean too much, or try to make out a story per se, but I’m only human, after all, and goddamnit, I want to make a story out of it…so, is there a story there?  Secondly, is this a method you anticipate working with in the future?  How so?  I could definitely see a rad book being made from this kind of craziness.  Could that perhaps be in the works?

RTC: Yes!!! The story-less story-board is one of my new favorite jams. It’s a fun game to play, filling in all these empty little boxes with whatever I please, not having any commitment to character development and other story making conventions that i’m sure i’d get bored or frustrated with at this point in my life.

Ryan Travis Christian "Randomizer," 2010 graphite and acrylic on paper 22" x 30"

To answer your question though, kind of, there’s a larger story at hand, but it’s impossible to figure from the limited information given to you in the Randomizer. The images in the Randomizer are all personally significant and I can talk about each one individually, but i’m not willing to divulge the larger picture just yet. That’s a luxury I’ve been affording myself, partial explanation. I am, in fact making more drawings in this fashion and things will become more clearer-ish when there are more of them to be seen. A book would be rad, but at the rate I knock these out, I’ll be having my mid-life crisis by the time that’s feasible.

EY: If you hadn’t already adequately answered this already in the previous questions, can you tell your audience how much of what you do is pre-planned or if it just builds up from fuck-all?

RTC: It always starts pre-planned, then goes to fuck all. Sometimes I’m lucky and it reverts back to the plan and is triumphant and glorious. Sometimes, I’m even luckier and  the fuck- all turns into something else entirely unexpected and is even more triumphant and glorious. Sometimes not, I also have a pretty decent sized pile of perceived failures that wreak of frustration. Regardless, they all have a bit of order and a bit of chaos.

EY: For some fucked up reason, my mind always start racing right when my head hits the pillow at night…ideas start flowing, and I often have to get up and write shit down multiple times.  Where does your best thinking take place – on long drives, pinching off a mid-afternoon soft-serve grumbler, deep in a packed bowl of Maui Wowee?  Enlighten us to your zen place.

RTC: I have a few zen places, I think they give me different results too. The pre-sleep mind race is definitely one of them, but I don’t write anything down because I want to go sleep, if it’s that good, it’ll come crawling back. Traffic ( see above). My day job is a great place to let the mind wander. A big old bowl actually puts me on the other side of the ying yang where I don’t think about anything for hours, which is nice for zoning out on a drawing or Are You Experienced?

Ryan Travis Chrisitan “Womanizer,” graphite on paper 22 x 30 in.

EY: When it comes to you vs. a blank sheet of paper, where do you typically start on a drawing — do you hit it from the center?  Upper-left corner?  Do you like to start with a character or a pattern, and let it flow?  Or is all your imagery just done by scanning wallet-size family photos and running a bitchin’ undiscovered custom photoshop filter?

RTC: It’s definitely a responsive type thing. I always have a vague mental picture, but just drawing and erasing and looking for things I like to surface always seems to be more interesting. My blank sheets aren’t that large either so they’re much more approachable. Occasionally I like to set little rules for myself like this has to have two of everything or this has to run off one side of the picture plane etc…. photoshop is not my cup of tea, it just makes me feel like a dick head.

EY: So, I’ve sort of coined a term for the arena I feel my work best fits: “upper-middle-brow.”  I feel we’re both in the same camp, where we are as perfectly happy to wade in the shallow end as the deep end.  It’s neither high nor low brow, neither blue chip nor cow chip, ya know?  Do you have some thoughts on the structure or hierarchy of the contemporary art world, and even more specifically about the hierarchy of mediums (ie. painting vs. drawing)?  I’ve had quite a few fuckers from the past tell me I should really pick up a paintbrush if I really want to get anywhere (fortunately that’s died down quite a bit).  Do you experience that at all?

RTC: I love the upper middle brow climate, high caliber, high fun. The contemporary art world’s hierarchical structure is a super-not sexy thing, it makes it easy to simultaneously despise and admire. As far as medium is concerned, that shit has gone right out the window for me. I felt like painting is placed above drawing simply because of market/sales based reasons. I’ve seen so much slap-dash malarky in galleries over the years as well, not going to name names, but this stuff has completely annihilated all of my preconceived notions about the hierarchy of art mediums.

EY: And, on that note:  why drawing?  For me, I just remember from the time I could play ring toss with my chub in the tub, I always thought realistic drawing was fucking magical…I never even considered painting!  In fact, I left animation mostly because it was turning to computers instead of traditional hand-drawn animation.  So, what is it about pencil to paper for you?

RTC: It was similar for me too, even when I was a little guy I was attracted to drawing over painting, I had so much more manipulative power with drawing than i did with painting, I didn’t like getting fucking paint on my fingers either. I used to be able to sit next to girls in class and draw cool shit, and they thought i was color it, and i thought they were sexy. But drawing is so much more raw to me, I almost always like an artists drawings better than their paintings. Mixing things and cleaning things constantly  can muck up my “zone” time. I enjoy the many qualities of a hand drawn product, the initial idea…. computers have removed all of the sexy from animation and movies, Pixar style digital shit has more or less ruined cartoons for me. I’ll take a room full around-the-clock drawing, chain-smoking Germans in the dust bowl over bunch of turkeys rendering freckles on some screaming baby on an Acer in a Culver City studio any day. Pencil and paper is pure magic, bottom line.

Ryan Travis Christian "Yes, I Crack That Every Day," 2009 graphite on paper 18" x 24"

EY: Lastly, it seems much of your imagery can only be conjured up by Mr. Sandman.  Can you talk about a recent dream you’ve had, you sick bastard?

RTC: Dreams and sleep are something I’ve always been super interested in, especially the slow wave delta type. I have a tendency to have really violent dreams, i get scalped, cut by naked women with utility knives, step on nails, etc etc… and frequently! I also say lots of super weird stuff in my sleep. I will talk about the corn belt one minute, say Michael Jackson’s name the next, and then sleep walk over to the kitchen and eat as much chocolate as i can find. I had a dream recently where this Asian guy and I were battling each other in a suburban neighborhood. Replete with tuxedos, golf bags slung over our shoulders filled to the brim with machetes and swords, and the ability to jump hundreds of feet in the air but only under the condition that you float back down to the ground really slowly. There we are, jumping all around and chucking swords at each other, causing lots of collateral damage, when in one singular exchange my sword takes of his entire right arm and his sword cleans the scalp right off of my head. The top of my head was sticky and stinging and blood was pouring down my face and into my eyes. After that chuck, we called it quits and shook hands, no hard feelings I guess.

EY: Okay, even more lastly than the last one…plug some shit!  What’s comin’ up for ye in 2K11?

RTC: A whole bunch of stuff!!! I’ll be in a group thing @ Subliminal Projects in LA this December, followed by a “Heads on Poles” themed group show here in Chicago in January, a neat solo presentation @ Guerrero in March, and another @ Western Exhibitions in October, as well as a neat gallery exchange project between WX & BRX. Also in March, got my first book coming out via LAND AND SEA, which will be killer. Some more curatorial projects are in the works. Doing a remix!!! of The Sun by Chris Duncan, and will be Dj’ing a whole bunch of different themed sets at  Club Nutz, the Reeder brothers  awesome comedy club/ discoteque. Also will be in the next issue of Point Never with Hisham Bharoocha, Marissa Textor, No Age and a bunch of other cool folks. And some other things…



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