American artist, Ryan Everson, approaches his art with the crucial play of words in his head. Raised in Portland, his work is never limited by restrictions of materials or processes and instead examines states of human consciousness, fame and the unknown. He often considers elements such as sincerity, fear, inward reflection in both his solo efforts and collaborative works. With a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Fine Art in Sculpture, and a Masters in Fine Arts, Everson is well versed in the history of art, and it seems there is nothing that he cannot do. He often uses lights in his text-based sculptures, and they’re not dissimilar to mechanisms of advertising and the bright light allure of Hollywood or New York. While he has exhibited both in his home country and internationally in countries such as Japan and China, he is yet to come to Australia. We had a chat to him about his practice, and we sincerely hope he hits our shores soon!
Sophie Flecknoe: Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself? How would you define what you do?
Ryan Everson: Well, I was born in the Midwest and my family is from Chicago. I was raised in the Northwest and did my undergraduate in art at The University of Oregon. I did my Masters at The University of Colorado, Boulder in Sculpture and Post Studio. I recently moved back to the Pacific Northwest and currently like in Portland, Oregon. I am currently a full time artist and full time artist assistant working for an international public artist, based in Portland and New York.
I like to think of myself as a jack-of-all-trades, but I am continuously meeting people who fit that description better than I, so I still have a lot to learn. I build, photograph and draw, all to create experiences. I don’t know if I could define what I do, I try and remain flexible so that my work stays fresh and exciting.
You work with a variety of different media, but what is the story behind your first camera? Do you still have it?
My first camera was a Minolta 35mm that my mom gave me when I was taking a film class in high school. I believe it was hers when she was in college. It was the first time I shot anything on film, and digital cameras were still clunky and expensive. It was a basic film and photo developing class where I learned dark room techniques and experimental film photography.
I think its still around, although I have moved so many times since then, that I don’t know where.
What is your definition of beauty and where do you find it?
For me, beauty isn’t just about aesthetics but extends to thoughts, emotions and ideas. The feelings that emerge when we look at a powerful piece of work are much more beautiful than the work itself. I find beauty in memories and experiences. The smells that trigger a specific moment in time, the feeling of being lost or alone, are places I find beauty.
Do you prefer to shoot on film or digital when you’re taking photographs?
It all depends what the work calls for. I try to never let a medium dictate my work. It’s true whether I am making 2D or 3D work, a lot of work suffers when artists try and fit their ideas into a specific medium that they are comfortable with, instead of doing what’s best for the work. I try to remain unlimited by materials and methods in order to allow the work to be unrestricted.
Is travel a component of your work? Where is one place you’d love to visit?
Travel is a huge aspect of my work. Putting myself outside my routine provides the material for a lot of my work and traveling does that every time. I am traveling to Taiwan on Sunday and have a motorcycle tour lined up for the end of June. I need time to reflect on where I am and gain perspective of where I have been, which all ends up manifesting into new works.
I would actually love to travel to Australia. I have never been, but hope to find myself there someday. I have always enjoyed traveling to islands, whether large or small. I think there is an amazing sense of adventure but also a lingering isolation that can provide a real sense of desire, which I am constantly trying to find through my work.
For you, what makes a successful image or work of art?
One that triggers an emotion. Whether that’s a memory or a feeling depends on the work. I don’t consider myself a photographer, and for a long time photography wasn’t a part of my practice. But I have had to adapt and learn what the best ways were to capture my pieces, and lately a large part of it has been through the lens.
What have been some of your best moments on the job?
I love to work collaboratively and bonding with friends while out setting up work is always great. I like talking about art and experiences and hearing other artists and friends stories, desires and opinions is always inspiring.
And the worst? Any unfortunate anecdotes?
When we were out setting up and shooting “Alone Out There” it was below freezing. There was a crew of three of us and we were all very unprepared for the temperature. The initial plan was to set up the work and float it on the lake, however by the time we set it all up, the edge of the lake was frozen and we all couldn’t feel our extremities. As the sun set we kept having to run back to the car to warm up in-between shooting. My friend Evan Blackstock is a much more experienced and dedicated photographer than I and luckily he pushed us to keep shooting in order to get the perfect shot, which really made the image. I’ve learned a ton from him and owe him everything for keeping me going on that shoot. However, we all bonded and I really love the memory of that day on the edge of the frozen lake.
You use a lot of text in your work… why is this? Does the use of text hold a certain power?
We are constantly bombarded by text in advertising. In my most recent use of text, I look to re-approach script and signage and point it in a more personal and sentimental direction. I love the indication of the human hand in text and really connect with handwritten letters and notes. I hope to pull those feelings into my work.
Who are some of your artistic icons?
I will always love early Jamie Hewlett illustrations. There is something really edgy and raw about his style. I love clean, bold lines paired with text. In more recent years I have been following Tom Sachs work, which I connect very strongly with. I recently read Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids and have been re-listening to all her songs. I pull from a really wide source of artistic icons.
What are you currently listening to? What are you currently reading?
I’ve been listening to Polica and The Divine Fits a lot. I also pretty much constantly listen to Tim Armstrong stuff, either from The Clash or The Mescaleros eras. I am currently re-reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which I have not read since I was a kid.
What is the process behind your art from initial idea to finished body of work?
All my work starts out as a sculpture generally. I build out the work and then take it out into the environment to shoot it. Photography is just an element in the lifecycle of the work. Often the sculptural pieces are shown in conjunction with the photographs and create a dialogue showcasing the lifecycle of the work.
Do you aim to tell a story through your art? Or perhaps you aim to make a comment?
I aim to create an experience for the viewer. It may be to evoke a memory or pull at a feeling or sentiment, but it all depends on the specific work. All my works spark a memory or an experience for me and become like a collected journal. It is my aim for these pieces to stir up similar feelings for the viewer.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years? What’s next for you?
I am working on setting up more shows abroad and I hope to see myself living and making work that is inspiring and fresh. I will forever have a fear of getting trapped within one style or body of work so I am constantly looking for new and exciting opportunities to challenge myself. I am currently working on a new body of work that draws off a lot of work from my show “Long Lost” at Gildar Gallery in Denver, which I am really involved in and excited about.
Words: Sophie Flecknoe. Image courtesy of Ryan Everson.