Ryan Coleman is a cool artist who lives with his wife in Atlanta. His work is sort of a “meshing” of animation and abstract expressionism http://www.ryancolemanart.com/. It’s playful and experimental, but Ryan says it also has a bit of a dark side. Here’s our cool chat …
“… It's actually quite challenging to make a successful abstract painting. You're teetering on the verge of nonsensical chaos, but if successful, you achieve an underlying harmony or order. It's fun to explore …”
MICHAEL: Hey Ryan! I've been sitting here looking at your website. For me, many of your paintings are these whimsical concoctions that mesh abstraction and animation. Very fun, like eating one of those brownies that has a cookie on top. Is it too much? Perhaps, but it's freeing and fun. I don't know. How do you see your work?
RYAN: Thanks! Yes, my work takes formal elements from animation/ cartoons and intertwines it with expressionist painting and drawing, to create a form of abstraction. I do think there is also an element of melancholy to my work, so not so sweet all the way through.
I'm greatly influenced by the animation from the 1920's, 30's and 40's and in particular the early Disney films. As bright, fun and whimsical as they are, there is an element of darkness to them. Life's experience has both sides, the light and the dark, and I want my work to ultimately be a reflection of the human experience.
I was going to be a cartoonist 100% up until high school, until I began to learn about the history of art, notably the Post-Impressionists, Matisse, Picasso and especially the Abstract Expressionists. This completely changed my trajectory as an artist. When I was exposed to the work of Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Jean-Michel Basquiat, that was it. I was going to be a painter and participate in this history. Though I always continued drawing cartoons on the side and began painting them on walls during and after high school for a while. My goal was to merge the two worlds I loved.
MICHAEL: Merging animation and abstract expressionism can easily turn into a big mess. Is it easier for you to create pure representations of each and connect them on a single canvas, half and half, OR literally mix the techniques?
RYAN: Sometimes I separate the two approaches completely and sometimes blend them together. It depends on the piece(s) or series I'm working on really.
MICHAEL: You know, I also find your use of Disney-like animation with abstraction intriguing because let's face it, Disney films tend to be neat and tidy with a beginning, middle and end and they wrap nicely with a bow of resolution - whereas abstraction is free for all. Your thoughts?
RYAN: That's a good observation. I've been attracted to the possibilities of abstraction for a long time and I still find approaching each new piece I make exhilarating, because I don't really know exactly how it will turn out. I usually do start with a framework - a composition, color scheme, reference imagery, etc., but love the sense of the unknown when it comes to the final product. I think abstraction (both semi-representational and non-representational) can engage the senses and even get into the spiritual, as a kind of reflection of the unknown.
With that said, just because a work deals with abstraction doesn't mean it will contain these things, it's actually quite challenging to make a successful abstract painting. You're teetering on the verge of nonsensical chaos, but if successful, you achieve an underlying harmony or order. It's fun to explore.
MICHAEL: Given that Ryan, are you telling me that a four-year-old could not do your work?
RYAN: Anything’s possible.
MICHAEL: You’re being kind, but I highly doubt it. Do you think it's still important to be in New York City to be a successful artist? If you're not there, shouldn't you be there?
RYAN: I think it depends on what one wants of their career really, and one's definition of success. But, as far as the international art gallery scene goes, I don't think it's any more condensed in one place than New York City. Of course, the internet has opened up the possibility of being able to reach people with your art worldwide, so that is fun to explore, and art fairs have obviously changed things as well, so who knows nowadays.
I think the key is finding the right galleries to show with and it's a lot more likely to happen if you're in the same place they are located (though not 100% necessary). Being able to walk through Chelsea or the Lower East Side and visit thousands of galleries, is really amazing, not to mention the museums. If you do want to pursue the gallery route in a global context and not just regional, I do think it is important to at least spend some time in NYC, LA or any major international city, building relationships and being aware of what is going on.
I moved to Brooklyn in the summer of 2003 with my good friend Todd Wahnish, shortly after graduating from the Atlanta College of Art. After 6 months, I got a job working as a studio assistant for Jeff Koons studio in Manhattan, and worked there for the next eight years, while working in my studio on my own work during off hours. It was a full time job and often you worked over 40 hours a week, but it was really exciting to be working for one of the most renowned artists in the world, right in the middle of Chelsea.
So for eight years, I was able to experience all of that, and make relationships with some amazing people. I did, however, start to feel like I wasn't spending enough time on my own work and in 2011, my wife and I decided to leave New York and relocate back to Atlanta. She was from here, though we met in NY, and we were both at a similar point of wanting to slow things down a bit, and lower the cost of living. It was a very difficult choice to make, but one we have been very happy with. I've been able to dedicate most of my time working on my own artwork, while freelancing doing various commercial projects on the side and joining Sandler Hudson Gallery here.
There's a really exciting art scene in general here right now, though obviously, it's a microcosm of a scene like New York, LA, London, Berlin, etc. My trajectory is to ultimately have my work viewed in an international/global context, not just regional, so that is where my focus is. Additionally, in relation to history as well, but I suppose that is another conversation.
In short, I do think it is important to spend some time in a major international city, building relationships with fellow artists and remaining aware as possible of what is going on in a global context.
MICHAEL: What's your daily routine like? Do you paint every day? How does your process work?
RYAN: My daily routine varies, but for the most part, I work around five to six days a week in the studio as much as possible. When I'm not there, I'm usually doing something on the computer, designing new work, photo-shopping images, etc.
I do some commercial-oriented mural work on the side, but all other work time is devoted to my studio. I also like to try and take one day off a week to do other stuff, to step away from it all for a second.
Regarding process, right now I'm working on several different bodies of work which are all under the umbrella of merging cartoon/animation and abstract expressionist painting. Each has a slightly different approach, but all generally begin with an initial idea, composition and color scheme, though I like to leave room to let them become what they will.
I try not to get too analytical when it comes to every detail, as I love what spontaneity can do. I'm constantly looking for source/reference material, which is a lot of 2d Cel Animation imagery and painting imagery.
MICHAEL: What do you make of the changing art business model these days? More and more galleries are folding as the internet continues to grow as an artistic influence and yet still, the vast majority of people walking the earth will never buy art. What's the deal?
RYAN: I don't really feel like I'm in a position to comment on why certain galleries ultimately close their doors or not, but I do feel very optimistic about being a working artist right now. The internet has definitely changed things, for the better I would say, since it's so much easier to expose people worldwide to your work. However, with that comes a seemingly endless flood of images/artwork out there, so one does have to be savvy with how/where they present their work online. The internet is just one aspect or tool … nothing beats seeing work or shows in person.
MICHAEL: Do you think things would be different for artists today if we had had art education in most primary schools for the past few decades?
RYAN: Maybe there would be more artists we might not have otherwise, if creative ways of thinking were introduced at an early age. It's so hard to speculate about this kind of stuff though. I knew I was an artist as far back as I can remember, and I was always doodling, drawing, watching cartoons and looking at the comic strips in the newspaper. Also, art and creativity were always encouraged by my parents, so I guess I had an advantage in that regard. So I think if kids don't have creativity encouraged at home, and it's not introduced at school, then maybe it would never manifest the way it potentially could.
MICHAEL: This really gets to the heart of the purpose of art, doesn't it? Since most people don't buy art and most museums possess way more art than they can possibly show at any one time, do you think we already have enough art in the world? What's the point of yet more art at this point?
RYAN: I believe art serves a purpose in affecting the way people see and experience life, themselves or any given moment. It can enhance and change one's world view or simply give a particular mood and emotion to someone. I personally, with my work, want to portray a sense of optimism and contemplation to the viewer, while having it be able to grab their attention and focus for any given amount of time. I think the most successful art challenges the viewer in one way or another, not necessarily in a disturbing way, but rather in a way that changes the way they feel or think for a given moment or maybe beyond that moment.
Some people choose to live with art they love, which is really great. It's really flattering as an artist to have someone purchase your work and hang or install it where they can experience it every day.
Life can sometimes feel like a routine of sorts, when in actuality it is not. Art helps to remove this illusion and hints that there is something deeper behind life's experiences. Everyone has a unique story and world view to share. So in this regard, there is always more room!
MICHAEL: Indeed. Thanks Ryan. I’ve enjoyed our chat.
RYAN: Thanks Michael. I enjoyed it as well!
Check out Ryan Coleman at http://www.ryancolemanart.com/.