Even if you aren’t privy to an artistic imagination, Ryan McGennisken works will gladly share their dreamy realities with you.
The product of an innate preoccupation with adventure and untainted childlike sensibilities, Ryan’s work has a surreal, wistful quality that packs a whole lot of WOW … and these days, there aint nothin’ elementary about this guy’s illustrative skills.
With a touch of the pastoral, and a profound disconnect with the nine-to-five world, Ryan’s works navigate you to a darker yet strangely comforting place. Earthly hues, watercolour and ink create a space for his characters, some human, others not so, that conjoin in an amazingly beautiful dreamscape.
When Invurt chatted to Ryan about his work, and his highly anticipated upcoming shows, he made it sound like all it takes to produce brilliant illustrations is a lifetime of adventure, countless hours drawing on every surface imaginable, as well as the knack of being an effortlessly cool kinda guy. Not hard, really…
You seem to be coming into your artistic own, clocking up a bundle of exhibitions both in solo and group shows. Has it been a hard slog getting your work out there? How did it all start to happen?
Well, being from the country I knew absolutely nothing of the gallery world. Embarrassingly enough, I thought every gallery had landscapes in them, cost money to enter and you had to wear a suit. It wasn’t until I made the move to the city and started attending exhibition that I realized this wasn’t the case – But I was seeing shows with the likes of Phibs, Justin Lee Williams, HAHA, Lister and other big names. I organized a group exhibition that was to be held in Chopper Reid’s old gallery which came about purely by chance when my friends rented the space to turn it into a bike shop in Collingwood (The Anchor) – it had track lighting, white walls, it was perfect. Since I’d never curated a show (or even been in an exhibition before) and still didn’t really know anything about it. So we just invited everyone we knew, they bought their own beer, and we just partied all night.
My partner, Hollie Kelley and I held another DIY show in Yarraville, in a double car garage, and since then I’ve just kind of been invited to be in shows here and there. I guess it’s been a hard slog, but I think if you’re passionate about what you do, you wind up meeting the right people – and I mean I’ve met the BEST people. I think it was purely by being patient and passionate about my work.
As a child you spent a lot of time travelling around the country, and you mention that these experiences influence your work a lot. Do you think that someone’s life experiences can make them creative? Or is being an artist something you’re either born with, or you’re not?
Picasso said it best, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once grown up. ”
When I was young, I always drew. I drew everything and on everything, usually crazy monsters and things like that. My entire life, I’ve drawn characters similar to what I draw to this day. I was just one of the lucky ones that held onto what I loved as a child, drawing, music, adventure and just doing what made me happy. I think I was very lucky to grow into the person I am, I didn’t have parents that forced me into some apprenticeship or some business degree.
I tend to gather memories from throughout my life for the most part, sometimes others’ and draw what I can from them, sometimes it comes easily, sometimes I need to disappear into the bush for a few days to really create a world around me to gather new ideas for new drawings. Growing up with parents driving me aimlessly into the bush for weeks at a time, forcing me to adventure about, go fishing, go on hikes, make rope swings and build wood huts really embedded a lot of memories in me, pretty much anything that I draw, relates to these memories.
When did you realise you were awesome at what you do? Did it take practice?
(Laughs) I don’t know if I’m ‘awesome’ at what I do, but thank you very much!
I guess for the past two or so years I’ve been really settled in on the whole “illustration” angle of my work. There is so much amazing work out there and so many amazing artists that it seems almost impossible to compete. I guess in order to try and move forward as an artist you need a lot of practice, and I mean A LOT of time sitting in front of a piece of paper developing ideas and memories into drawings. I seem to finish a drawing and when I start drawing the next I look back and improve on it or add something new, whether it’s a drastic change or something even as small as an extra line in a particular place. When I’m working, the days just disappear.
These days, what motivates you to start creating a new piece? Do you wake up with an idea? Slam down a double shot latte? Or just think of something and run with it? Tell us….
Coffee comes first for sure! It’s probably lame to say, but I guess ‘life’ is my motivator. I have this big idea of life and how it should be lived, if I had it my own way. In my work, I also play with the idea that life as we know it is flipped upside down – I’m talking the aftermath of a nuclear war or something like that. It’s a tough question, how would we as a human race would cope and survive? What would we do? Where would we go? Usually I have a lot of ideas based around that, so yeah, I would definitely consume some coffee, turn on some music and let a drawing come to life.
I don’t plan drawings very often. I have a bunch of sketch books that have these lame little scribbles in them from like five years ago that I haven’t touched since. Sometimes I get these ideas that I need to draw, I’ll usually write them down, rather than sketch them out. As un-exciting as it may sounds, my drawings generally start with a piece of paper, a pencil and the vaguest of ideas.
Like I talked about earlier, thinking about how I grew up running about in the bush can motivate me to start drawing, or sometimes even to just go tie some sticks together in some formation or light a fire in my backyard. It doesn’t actually take that much to get me motivated, nine out of ten days I spend in my studio at my desk with a million drawings on the go.
Tell us a bit more about your mediums of choice, and the weapons in your artistic arsenal?
I have a selection of brushes that I use religiously. I have really old ones that look terrible, but I’m really attached to them. I work with paper, watercolour, water and fade proof pigment ink in the form of pens of various sizes. Sometimes I use gouache and a 0.5 pacer.
Artists you’d recommend? People’s work that gives you shivers?
Wow, this could be a hefty list. I’d say off the top of my head; Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Michael Sieben, Alex Pardee, Craola, Swoon, Mike Giant, Monica Canilao, Sean Whelan, Cat Rabbit, Andrea Innocent, Jeremy Fish, Acorn, Heesco, Ken Taylor, Hollie M Kelley, Nick Hills, Michael Peck, Lister, Dave C, SMEL, Sian Song, Nior, Devendra Banhart, Jose Parla, Bec Winnel. Wow, that’s not even scratching the surface! Australia alone has way too many amazing, there’s just too many to list. We live in an incredibly artistic time. Thanks to the internet, everywhere you look there’s incredible talent!
How was it being featured in the Northern Exposure Show at At Large? That was a pretty neat show, dude!
I love it! It was really great to show alongside some of the artists that were taking part there, I’d be definitely keen to participate next year again if given the chance.
So tell us about your upcoming solo show with Surface POP? Is there a theme? What’s the occasion?
Renee McCready, is amazing, she’s the brains behind Surface Pop. She talked me into it (laughs). It’s a nerve cruncher but I’m going to do my best to transform the space with the little time that I have to do so. Instead of wandering about and finishing viewing the artworks within a short time, I want whoever comes to gain an actual long lasting experience, really set a bench mark within myself and future shows that I have. I love going to installation shows where it feels as though you’re in a completely different place, compared to just being in a plain-Jane room with white walls and a few pieces of work stuck up. I guess the ongoing themes through my work will be the theme of the show, so take that as you will, but we’ve got some big plans in the works and I really hope to get all these ideas underway. Very exciting!
How do you think the art scene in Melbourne is shaping up these days? Has it changed in the last few years for better or worse?
Since I grew up in the country, I can’t really comment on that as well as I would like to, unfortunately. Even since having my own shows, I still don’t have a thorough stance on how Melbourne’s art scene compares to other cities or with it’s own past, I’m pretty set apart from it all. I spend all my time locked down in my studio. Without meaning to, I don’t really pay attention to what’s happening. I think I might be right in saying that it’s easier, with the help of a few particular galleries, for the underdog to get out there and show their works, especially street artists.
The name of your website is The Earth Died Screaming, it’s tantalisingly bleak and we love it. Can you explain to our readers where this came from?
The Earth Died Screaming is an idea that flourished in my work. Like I talked about earlier, playing with the idea that life as we know it ended and what would happen in the aftermath.
The title is actually a Tom Waits song – it just kind of fit in with everything I was playing with in my head.
I think my ideal day is my usual day. Wake around 8am, make some coffee and breakfast for Hollie and I, play some cards over breakfast, check out the day in the backyard for a few minutes. Make some more coffee; probably discuss some biz with my housemate, shower, and then get to work in the studio upstairs. I might Listen to some music, play some guitar and draw for the next few hours.
I usually take a walk around Collingwood/Fitzroy early afternoon and grab a coffee, maybe some food, then get back to work until around six or seven pm. I’ll take Hollie out for some Indian or cook something delicious and drink some wine, then hang with the housemates or head to a gig or bar for the evening, or an art show if there’s something on. If I had more time, I’d spend some time at the beach or in the bush wandering about, but living inner city, I think that’s about the best it gets for someone like me.
Lastly. Ryan McGennisken. That’s a nice wholesome name right there. Is there a reason why you haven’t gone the way of many urban artists and chosen a moniker?
Oh it’s definitely a wholesome name, that’s for sure! It’s something that I’m really proud of; my family’s awesome and have a good history and plenty of good stories.
I used to have a few different alias’ when I was younger, running about town graffiting everything in my path, but every time I settled on one, a couple of weeks or a month or so later I’d get sick of it and start thinking of something else. I guess of late, when asked what my ‘artist name’ was, I wouldn’t be able to think of anything clever enough, so I just stuck with my real name. In the past couple of years, when I’ve done any street work, it’s all unsigned and I kind of like that. It’s completely different to my usual work and has no real attachment to me personally.
Its fun to think that someone might see my work, and have no idea who put it there … maybe it was me…
Check out Ryans website, Earth Died Screaming, and stay tuned for more details on his upcoming solo show …