Here's an exclusive Cool on Purpose interview with Virginia based freelance artist Ryan Hall.
There are a lot of dark themes in your work. Is there any particular place or influence in which that stems from?
Well, I never made a conscious effort to skew my work in a generally dark or macabre direction; I guess it just sort of happened. That said, the short answer would be ‘ugly is just easier’.
You don’t have to worry about everything aligning aesthetically perfect, like you do when making something beautiful. This is my best guess what the longer more psychological reason is. Without diving into an autobiography, I’d guess it stems from a couple pretty major life changes. Around the seventh grade my skin disorder came into its own and, at the time, I didn’t know it was a disorder so when people started treating me so differently in a negative light I began to think I was crazy. In high school I began remedying this with every drug you can think of until one day, my body said “enough” and my heart stopped beating. Nearly dieing had an oddly positive side effect; I found myself less afraid of dieing, less afraid of living, and more willing to face my demons head on instead of hiding. Any kind of dark skew in my work has little or nothing to do with a negative view on the world; quite the opposite. I’m generally optimistic and idealistic, but at the same time I’m willing to fully about-face and investigate those dark inner areas a lot of people avoid. Then I just attempt to put it on paper so to speak.
Had you been doing art before these events and, if so, did you notice a change in styles or techniques during?
No I didn’t do it thoroughly prior to. Before then that stuff was just a small facet of my identity. I was more concerned with being a class clown and learning and learning how to kick-flip. I probably drew more than most and a little better than most but it wasn’t a dominant force in my life, so it didn’t really have a particular style. A style didn’t really emerge until I began to feel like I had something to prove. Actually no, there was a bit of a recurring theme. It basically amounted to ‘thing x plus thing y = ? As in pig + robot = goofy looking pigbot.’ I rediscovered some of this stuff in my dad’s attic recently and noticed the pattern. It mostly consisted of combining farm animals and robots. Even at my most normal, I was still an odd little dude.
Did you do any schooling for art in high school or college or were you primarily self taught?
I guess I’m a bit of both. I took an art elective every year in high school but that was mostly so I could dick around. However, I learned quite a bit from my tattoo apprenticeship (going around the color wheel instead of through it for more vibrant colors, etc.). And, I did a bit of college before running out of money. After that, I just got myself in the habit of doing things I wouldn’t normally do, which is basically what you do in school anyhow.
How do you feel about how the art community in your area is doing in general? Is it growing? Stagnant?
I can’t say I keep up with it too much. The Neptune Festival is normally pretty great, but most of the artists aren’t local. Could be worse, could be better, basically. I’d say it’s on a slightly upward slant, especially in Norfolk.
Even though I’ve never done anything similar to his work, the first name to pop into my head was Bob Ross for some reason. Maybe just the carefree way he approached it all. As for style influences, there are too many to name so I’ll just name a few. While tattooing, I found myself liking Luis Royo and H. R. Giger, namely because their art books were laying around as well as those giant wall and ceiling frescos that were all the rage in the Renaissance. I always admired Rembrandt’s ability to capture people, as well as Picasso’s to name a few obvious ones. As I moved into digital art I found myself influenced by tons of artists. Everything from Warwick Goble to Hyeung Tae Kim, from Chuck Jones to Kei Acedera, from Andy Warhol to Brandon Bird to about a million others.
Do you have any quarrels with anything you see happening in the art world?
Well, it’s not a new problem but I’ve never understood the presumption that art requires intention. That is to say, that unless someone set out to make art, the end product isn’t. It flies in the face of the other common thread in art which says it’s open to interpretation. Well, if I intend one thing and it’s interpreted a completely different way, is it failed art? If I accidentally set something up that emotionally resonates with people, is it not art because it was an accident? My main beef with art is everyone has a different meaning which kind of makes the word redundant. I hope that made some kinda sense.
What would you like your last words to be – ideally?
I’m going to cheat your question a bit because ideally, I won’t see death coming. I fear the conscious knowledge of impending death far more than dying itself so I hope my last words are something droll and meaningless like, “Did I forget to turn off the stove?” or, “My brakes feel kinda funny.”
Check out Ryan's website after the jump.