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Home FEATURES Artist Interviews Ryan McLennan Interview

Ryan McLennan Interview
Monday, 19 May 2008 07:52
This Virgina based artist just wrapped up a show @Kinsey/DesForges in LA... Dave Kinsey interviews.

McLennan is part of a vanguard of young painters who have twisted the conventional, naturalist approach to depicting animals and environmental themes in mischievous ways to the serious end of drawing attention to environmental issues. In the tradition of great naturalist painters such as John James Audubon, McLennan has become both student and advocate: inspired by many hours spent in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, this VCU grad and Virginia native has undertaken an in-depth inquiry into the evolution and displacement of North America wildlife, and his understanding of changing patterns in their behavior, incurred as a direct result of changes and destruction to their natural habitats, is evidenced in his maturing body of work.

Legendary artist himself, Dave Kinsey interviews.

Age? Location? Artistic education?

27. Richmond, VA. BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

This is your first major solo show ("From Fur to Bone" April 5 - may 10 2008 at Kinsey/DesForges). Can you talk a bit about this show and what inspired you to create this body of work?

I'll start with a little ass kissing and say that working with Kinsey/DesForges is leagues and bounds over working with any other gallery I have been involved with. So... now that's out of the way we can start this interview. I feel the work in this show is a refinement of my past couple years of painting. Visually, I wanted more realism and thematically, I wanted more cohesiveness, and I feel I put that together here.

Why thank you, Mr McLennan. So describe your process of creating a new piece?

Starting a new piece really depends on what I am researching or what I might have recently seen. I need to read. I need to know the animal's behavior before I can change it. Studying and note taking are much more important than sketching. I don't keep much of a sketchbook, other than rough outlines for composition. I don't like the way my drawings look, they are too cartoony and sloppy. I really just want to see the finished work. Sometimes I'm scared to start putting down paint because the graphite outline just looks miserable. If you saw one of these things before I started painting, you would give me a pretty disappointed look for sure. I have to trust that it will come together, and it usually does.

It does seem to always come together in the end... do you find that pressure motivating or detrimental?

Motivating, the quicker I paint, the fewer outlines I have to see.

What inspires you to convey North American wildlife in your work?

Understanding the animals close to me is important. Knowing I could see them in the wild is totally exciting and I want to be familiar with them. I like to identify a bird from their song, I like to see a deer and know when he should be shedding his antlers. I've considered painting animals that live outside North America, but I have so much more to learn about the wildlife here. I could paint a kangaroo, but it would possibly interact with a dingo, what do I know about dingoes? Once I learn about the dingo, then I should study a platypus? That's the way it flows, they become dependant on each other, and they are connected. I've started with the animals here and I've still got a ton of work to do.

So, animals in general have an important role or hold a special place in your life experience as well as your artistic experience?

Always. One of my earliest memories, or I guess my parents tell me so often I think I remember, was giving newborn animals my outgrown baby stuff. Apparently I wasn't having it when my mom told me I couldn't have a pacifier anymore, and I was only convinced to give it up when she told me the baby deer needed it and they didn't have their own. I wasn't gonna let some other kid have my stuff, but if the animals needed it, that's what I cared about and they were gonna get it. We packed up my baby stuff, went to a hiking trail, and left it in log for the baby animals. I felt really good about the decision and never asked for it back.

Growing up I would spend all my time looking for animals and setting up environments in aquariums for lizards and turtles or whatever I could catch. This lasted until I got interested in more grownup things like skateboards and girls and drinking beer with my friends. At that point spending time outside really meant hiding in the woods and smoking. Now, even more grown up, I'm going back to my childhood ways. I spend a lot of time outside looking for snakes and turtles, I just don't bring them home like I used to.

So let's talk a bit about your choice of materials. The work in the show is acrylic and graphite on paper but the paper has a serious substance to it-tell me what draws you to paint on paper rather than canvas?

Working on paper was an experiment and a break from working on wood panels. I found out pretty quickly how similar the paper's surface is to the panels once it is gessoed and sanded. I prefer the paper to the canvas because of the completely smooth surface, I can never get past the little bumps and dimples on canvas. I can feel the texture of the canvas when moving the pencil across it and it drives me crazy. The traditional aspect of natural history drawings being done on paper also plays into the aesthetic. The forgiving qualities of paper are wonderful, it's kinda like cheating. When the composition isn't working the way you want, you tear an edge off, problem solved! I've also found that after the surface is prepped, sanding away mistakes is much easier on paper than on panel.

I do see how that could affect the type of detail you're able to achieve in your work. Do you ever think you'll revert back to panel or even canvas?

I'm sticking to paper, but you never know when things change.

I really admire that you have taken your own path stylistically as an artist. Are there any artists' work that you admire, past or present that has had any affect or your technique or process?

I'm really interested in installation artists like Mark Dion and Cai Guo-Qiang. I want to be surrounded by their work. I could live in a Mark Dion installation, I want my house to look like one of his exhibitions. Caspar David Friedrich and landscape painters from the 1800's, Edward Hicks, Andrew Wyeth, These are the painters I take little cues from, with trees especially. At a distance, my paintings look pretty meticulous, but at a closer look you can see tree bark is a smear of brown paint, or a feather is a solid brushstroke. I'm also a sucker for any biological prints or diagrams, natural history drawings, and Audubon was ok.

The Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition at the Guggenheim is amazing and I can totally see why you'd like to live in Mark Dion's installations. Have you ever thought about making installations in addition to the works you create now?

All the time, I'll have to ask Mark Dion where he gets all the taxidermy or borrow Guo-Qiang's crew to make make me some papier-mâché animals.

OK, so tell me a bit about the Appalachian Trail, I remember you telling me about wanting to explore it-are you still going to do that?

When the time is right I would love to hike the Appalachian Trail. Planning that trip is not easy, there is a lot to prepare for and you have to put lots of things on hold. You need the money to pay your rent while gone or just move out, quit your job, have money to come home to. It's not something I could afford anytime soon. About two years ago I had plans to hike the first half of the Trail, but they fell through. Looking back, not taking the trip was the best thing for me, as far as focusing on artwork.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, how would you do it?

I would make it clear from the start that the bears are LEAVES, not BEES. That has happened more times than I would like. The world I've created is a reflection of our own. The bears represent what is lacking in the environment; they embody the growth and wildness that we are losing. The birds and mammals are in charge of their future, they have to manage what resources they have without exhausting them.

Hmm, that's really interesting. So the bears represent all the little bits and pieces that make up a larger problem?

Yes.

"From Fur to Bone" April 5 - May 10 2008 at Kinsey/DesForges

What was it like growing up in Richmond? What do you like most about it?

I grew up in a small town about thirty miles from Richmond and have lived in the city for 10 years now. The main attraction to move to the city was the music scene. When I was 15, I started going to shows and was blown away by all the bands, even when they were terrible. These people are putting out their own records, printing their own shirts and traveling around the country… and they are my age? I wanted to know these people; I wanted to be in a band. When I was 17, I was accepted into VCU's art program and moved to Richmond. After I got here I made a lot of great friends and played music and went on tours. I did well in school, but was more focused on playing music and putting out records. When I finished school I gradually turned my attention towards art and away from music, kinda backwards I guess. So, why do I still live here? Richmond is a fairly small town and continues to feel smaller, but I still really like it. Finding a hiding place is important, but I imagine that's the case in most towns. My family lives here and I have the coolest friends in the world, that's what keeps me around.

So what instrument did you play?

Bass, never liked or learned to play guitar.

OK, so of I came out for a visit what would we do/ where would you take me?

We would wake up and get coffee, then head straight to the park across the street. Describing this park and what it does for me I can't even explain, especially here in this interview. It's my sanctuary and I can't believe I'm moving away from it next month. Anyway, we would hang out there and then make our way to the river to sit on rocks and swim. We haven't even been in a car yet! This ain't LA. We would go back to my house and eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch because I do that everyday, even though I get ragged on for it. Now we get in a car. I guess I would show you around town, see the sites like Hollywood Cemetery and Belle Isle, whatever kills time until dinner. We would eat at Edo's or Mamma Zu, best restaurants in town. After that we probably wouldn't want to do shit cause we'd be so full and drunk. Sounds like a perfect day to me.

Hollywood Cemetery? Seems like an LA thing, what's that all about?

It's a beautiful and historical cemetery that overlooks the James River (the river we are gonna swim in). You'll see when you come to town.

Do you ever feel that you had to be in a major city like New York to have a fulfilled artistic life?

I thought I wanted to move to New York and was making plans to (just as I had planned to hike the Trail, sometimes I don't go through with things), but I decided that would hurt me more than help right now. I want to focus and live here for cheap and have the freedom to work at a pace I am comfortable with. So no, I don't feel the need to live in a major city.

That makes sense, it always seems like seclusion is the best remedy to creating great work. Do you see yourself living anywhere else in the future?

I do. As much as I like Richmond, I don't think I'll let myself live here forever. When I move, I doubt it will be to a bigger city.

When did creating art become something important in your life?

About a year after finishing college this guy Chris Carroll, who is now one of my closest friends, asked me if I wanted to get in on a studio space he had. At first I wasn't all that interested, I hadn't made any art since school, I hadn't thought about art, and I didn't really know Chris all that well. After a couple of run-ins and his gushing over this amazing space, I finally made it over to take a look. The space, I think it was an old print shop, was perfect. It was enormous, had concrete floors, 20-foot ceilings, shelves lining the walls, skylights, rats, a tree growing through the brick wall, and right between galleries in Richmond's "art district". One look was all I needed, I wanted to live there (Chris was living there), and I wanted to be an artist and paint and get drunk and do nothing else. That's pretty much what we did for the year or so we had the place. The time in that building really changed the way I felt about art.

When are you the most productive?

My schedule varies constantly. One month I can get straight to work on a painting after rolling out of bed, next month I can't concentrate until it gets dark. Setting up a new studio space is when I am non-stop. Since I moved into the studio I was just talking about, I have always painted where I live. I've moved four times in the past three years and I'm about to move again in two weeks. New surroundings are so motivating for me, hopefully I'll get over that so I can eventually settle into one place.

Do you listen to music when you paint? Is that an integral part of your world while being creative?

Always listen to music while painting. I can't work in complete silence. The needle on my record player broke a while ago, so lately it's been whatever shuffles on my computer.

What are you really excited about right now?

Spending time in the park watching for owls and deer, setting up a new studio, living by myself (learning to cook), driving less, getting started on a new body of work, [being included in] the latest edition of New American Paintings magazine, getting this interview done.

OK, so what's next, I see you have a show in Richmond towards the end of this year? What's up with that?

In November I will have a two-person show with Amy Ross from Boston. Amy and I have been in contact for a while now and have wanted to do a show together, so this was the perfect opportunity. This will be at Transmission Gallery, which was opened last year by my friend Bret. The space is fairly small, so I am working on a smaller scale than I did for the Kinsey/DesForges show. I'm excited about working smaller, it's a change of pace and a challenge. It's been a while since I've had a show in town, so I'm really looking forward to this.

OTHER INTEVIEWS/REVIEWS:
styleweekly.com/article.asp?idarticle=15013
neublack.com/art-design/ryan-mclennan-from-fur-to-bone-kinseydesforges/

PHOTOS:
In-studio shots by Liza Kate
Exhibition shots by Kinsey {moscomment}

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IMG_9585_sm

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lead

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Wednesday, 16 June 2010 17:39


Headlands Center Fundraiser -6/4/14
Tuesday, 20 May 2014 07:54

SAN FRANCISCO --- The Headlands Center for the Arts is preparing for their largest fundraiser of the year set to go down on June 4th at SOMArts here in the city. Art auction, food, drinks, live music, etc and all for helping to support a great institution up in the Marin Headlands. ~details

ABOUT HEADLANDS
Headlands Center for the Arts provides an unparalleled environment for the creative process and the development of new work and ideas. Through a range of programs for artists and the public, we offer opportunities for reflection, dialogue, and exchange that build understanding and appreciation for the role of art in society.

headlands

 

 

 


 

 

 

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Mario Wagner (Berkeley) opened his new solo show A Glow that Transfers Creativity last Saturday night at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco.


Serge Gay Jr. @Spoke Art

The paintings in the show are each influenced by a musician, ranging from Freddy Mercury, to Madonna, to A Tribe Called Quest and they are so stylistically consistent with each musician's persona that they read as a cohesive body of work with incredible variation. If you told me they were each painted by a different person, I would not hesitate to believe you and it's really great to see a solo show with so much variety. The show is fun, poppy, very well done, and absolutely worth a look and maybe even a listen.


NYCHOS Mural on Ashbury and Haight

NYCHOS completed this great new mural on the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco on Tuesday. Looks Amazing.


Sun Milk in Vienna

With rising rent in SF and knowing mostly other young artists without capitol, I desired a way to live rent free, have a space to do my craft, and get to see more of the world. Inspired by the many historical artists who have longed similar longings I discovered the beauty of artist residencies. Lilo runs Adhoc Collective in Vienna which not only has a fully equipped artists creative studio, but an indoor halfpipe, and private artist quarters. It was like a modern day castle or skate cathedral. It exists in almost a utopic state, totally free to those that apply and come with a real passion for both art and skateboarding


"How To Lose Yourself Completely" by Bryan Schnelle

I just wanted to share with you a piece I recently finished which took me 4 years to complete. Titled "How To Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue)", it consists of a copy of the September 2007 issue of Vogue magazine (the issue they made the documentary about) with all faces masked with a sharpie, and everything else entirely whited out. 840 pages of fun. -Bryan Schnelle


Tyler Bewley ~ Recent Works

Some great work from San Francisco based Tyler Bewley.


Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery

While walking our way across San Francisco on Saturday we swung through the opening receptions for Kirk Maxson and Alexis Mackenzie at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in the Mission.


Jeremy Fish Solo Show in Los Angeles

Jeremy Fish opens Hunting Trophies tonight, Saturday April 5th, at the Los Angeles based Mark Moore Gallery. The show features new work from Fish inside the "hunting lodge" where viewers climb inside the head of the hunter and explore the history of all the animals he's killed.


The Albatross and the Shipping Container

Beautiful piece entitled "The Albatross and the Shipping Container", Ink on Paper, Mounted to Panel, 47" Diameter, by San Francisco based Martin Machado now on display at FFDG. Stop in Saturday (1-6pm) to view the group show "Salt the Skies" now running through April 19th. 2277 Mission St. at 19th.


The Marsh Barge - Traveling the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to quit my job, move out of my house, leave everything and travel again. So on August 21, 2013 I pushed a canoe packed full of gear into the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, along with four of my best friends. Exactly 100 days later, I arrived at a marina near the Gulf of Mexico in a sailboat.


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