Age? Hometown? Occupation?
Born Friday the 13th March 1981 in Chicago, IL. I handle artworks and humans
Describe a day in the life of Ryan Coffey.
A quart of water first thing, then a shower. Oh boy, there’s so much and so little. It’s more than likely that I’ll go to work for about eight hours and then leave. Probably ride my bike, maybe get a drink with some friends, glue some shit down on paper, maybe a book, maybe a movie, try to chart all the thoughts running around in my mind and try to make sense of them, find connections and then do something with them. Really it’s all a crapshoot, my job is never the same and neither is my life outside work, I am constantly amazed by the never ending changes that life presents, life is nothing if not entertaining.
How did you get involved in making art?
Honestly, it was through skateboarding, I really had no idea what was what till I started skating in middle school and then once I got to highschool and was kicking it with the older skateboarders I noticed that they all took art classes so I figured that was what skateboarders did. Basically it just gave me validation to do what I’d already been doing, and once I started taking classes it fell into place rather quickly. I was really lucky and when I was 15 my school brought in a graffiti artist from Chicago and myself and a couple other kids got to work on a mural with him and one of his friends. That experience was huge for me, one to work with an older artist and two to be taken seriously by him and his crew was one of the biggest early experiences for me. It was at one of his openings that I decided while sitting on a window sill looking at the city and the people there to see his show that I realized that that was the life I wanted, and I’ve never really looked back since. I feel blessed every day to have had the experiences in art that I’ve had and to be doing what I’m doing.
How would you describe your art to someone who’s never seen it?
It’s different everytime, I use a lot of um’s and uh’s, it’s about the one thing I have a difficult time being articulate about. I started off school in New York in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and I was immediately struck by the distance that most of the work that I was seeing there created between the art and the viewer and I decided that that was something that I didn’t want to happen with my work. This was my major concern for many years and one of the realizations that I came to was that contempory art’s obsession with theory was impeding its ability to reach a broad audience. Now I realize that there are obvious flaws with this thought and I am not against theory in anyway whatsoever, in fact it has been a major influence on my development as an artist and a person, but because of this train of thought I have steered away from really dissecting my own work. I have instead relied upon a trust in process or praxis within the work itself, allowing it the room in my own mind to breathe and develop. The more I work and the longer I do this it is becoming more clear what the work is “about” and it is becoming easier to talk about, but I don’t think that it’s really necessary to understand one’s own work or to interpret it for others, that’s why I work the way I do, and if someone that’s never seen it is interested in hearing about it I try to turn it into a dialogue rather than a description. The work in American Cinema is, I think at least, really starting to hinge on this, I started lately to think of these pieces as film stills rather than individual pieces, they are in essence parts of a movie that I’m developing about the American Experience, however absurd that sounds.
Describe your working method. What kinds of materials do you use and why?
Again, my working method draws upon my reaction to my interpretation of contemporary art and relies in large part upon trust and intuition rather than concept and then creation, or something like that. I have found that this works best for me. In the past when I tried to start with “something” I could never get anywhere, I would get completely lost in the idea and frustrated with my means to be able to make that happen. I truly believe that being able to make artwork first involves finding the best way to trick yourself into making it. For me this is a reliance upon the belief that I will more than likely make the right move if I don’t question it. So I basically set up parameters within which I work, like, for this body of work I’ll use paper this size and images from these piles, and then start from there. Generally I begin with one element and then sit with that one element for some time, flipping through images, thinking of marks in my mind and endlessly staring at the piece trying to visualize what the next move should look like. Also I typically work on between 10 to 20 pieces at a time. Once I get a hint or see what the next move should be I force myself to make that mark whether I am certain or not, the process usually speeds up after this. Given the bareness of my work, one of the most difficult decisions for me is when to stop working on a piece, the reason for this being that while I want for the work to appear complete I also want for it to be slightly uncomfortable, basically I want it to vibrate in the in-between. I was always struck by a quote I read of Picasso’s when I was younger, something like, “a painting is never finished.” This has always resonated with me, I love the notion that a piece of art could be infinite, or infinitely variable.
For the past few years I have been working predominantly on paper and use images largely gathered from Life magazines spanning from the late sixties to the mid seventies. There are many reasons why I keep turning back to this image base but one is that the image quality and color schemes fit exactly within the realm of what I see myself, I have often wondered whether or not I would use images from this time if they looked like images from that time and I think that the answer is a definite yes. I am constantly searching for images and there is just such a “high-gloss” look to images being produced at this time, both literally and figuratively, that I find myself totally disinterested in them. Another reason and it is perhaps more relevant to the work it that I see that time period as the first time that America in large part became conscious of itself, you see this quite viscerally with the Marlboro man. Here was a time when the cowboy was largely an outdated occupation but the advertisers realized that it is so entrenched within our identity that people could somehow associate with it. It was really a golden age of advertising and really the only ten years where the American Empire really made any sense, everything after that point has pretty much been a comment upon a comment upon a comment and so forth. I guess that I find that in going back to this source material I am able to give some kind of comment upon the world that we live in. I also just love the uncompromising arrogance and naivete of that time. As for my use of paint, gold leaf and other mark making materials, I think that they are my attempt to draw these images from the past into our time.
Name some influences (art, film, music…) that inspire the American Cinema.
It’s funny, the title American Cinema came from a hilarious argument that Jason and I were having over hot toddies at Enid’s in Brooklyn last December about our different interests in film. I was arguing for terrible Hollywood films and he was arguing for good thoughtful cinema, basically I was being an asshole and an antagonist, Jay’s girlfriend and our other friend Evan Rehill were there laughing their asses off at how ridiculous we were being. It was honestly one of the best conversations that I’ve ever had, and when I was on the plane back to SF American Cinema popped into my head, I thought it was perfect because it could draw upon the many similarities and the differences in interest that Jay and I share. With regard to influences they span from the most crass like the Tea Party and the most sublime like the American landscape. I am absolutely obsessed with the concept of America, it is such an amazing and utterly ridiculous place and will probably be the subject of my work for most of my life.
One book you recommend reading.
This is a fucked up question, but I’d have to say the book that has had the single most impact on me is a book I read years ago called, The Realization of Emptiness, by some Tibetan Lama. I lost the book and have never found it again, but it had my head tied in knots for months, I’ve never had to read the same pages over and over again as much as I did with that book. It just basically just tears everything to shreds, it put my life in shambles for a bit.
Al Pacino or Bob Dylan?
Billy the Kid
You went to school at SFAI. How did your experience at school relate to what you do today?
I loved the view.
Best / Worst thing about the city: