On Thursday evening, I had the great pleasure of listening to Rob Ryan (the artist most widely known for his paper-cutting and screen-printing work) talk about his career to date.
Although, as he acknowledged, he’s not the most comfortable of speakers, Ryan is an engaging talker particularly because of his humour and honesty. Speaking alongside a rolling slide show of work-in-progress images, he talked of the years of work he’d put in before he became well-known, of how he’d worked lots of other jobs – like cycle courier – to support his studio, and how he’d coped with having his signature style blatantly copied.
I was particularly fascinated to learn that it took him seventeen years before he started being really recognised for his work. Seventeen years of working full-time hours on his own art, then spending weekends and evenings doing other jobs to make money to keep a roof over his head. Such dedication and hard graft, in a world of ‘get rich quick’ and instant fame, is so laudable and was definitely the moment I will take away as learning. That, and a desperate urge to find more time for making art myself…
Although Ryan’s work is really gorgeous and distinctive when viewed on all the different formats (including the mugs and tea towels I have at home!) it was when I really looked, slowly and mindfully, at some of his original, hand-cut and painted pieces, that the work really and truly came alive for me. The delicacy and intricacy of the cutting, the fragility of the paper and paint, and the emotional resonance of the language and images make for such beauty. I never realised how much work went into each piece. All the original drawing is done by Ryan, and then the cutting is done by his small team. He still does the bits that are a signature of his work – faces and hands in particular – before the whole thing is spray painted. I’d not realised that he cuts on white paper and then paints it, and what a delicate operation that is! The big paper-cut pieces are painted outdoors and they’ve lost hours of hard work with a gust of wind…
We also learnt about Ryan’s decision to work with businesses – the highs and lows of being commissioned to create art with a message given to you – and partners. And that the reason you see his work on everything from tea towels to notebooks is because he was being so cleverly copied that he feared all his hard work would be stolen, so now his name is on everything that he’s licensed. It’s obviously a strategy that has worked; when you think of paper-cutting, you think of Rob Ryan.
Listen to the World, Ryan’s new solo exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, is open now and runs until 1st November 2015. It includes both new paper-cut and screen-printed works, including some created just for this show, plus some significant pieces from other shows, including the enormous paper-cut, The Map of my Entire Life, and Our Sub Atomic Love Story, a limited edition laser-cut, which was created for the exhibition. I highly recommend you go, and make sure you linger over the artworks to really take in the beauty of the hand-crafted originals before heading to the shop, where you’ll be as tempted as I was over the exclusive merchandise, some of which are very special and limited edition. The Tatty Devine collaboration necklace is definitely on my wish-list!
In addition, to celebrate the publication of the third in his trilogy of children’s books, Ryan is speaking at Yorkshire Sculpture Park again in October – more details here.
Artwork copyright Rob Ryan, by permission, Yorkshire Sculpture Park.