Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ryan Kelley Interview

Fun interview with skater and artist Ryan Kelley. He Just came out with an awesome art book called "This Took Me All Year". We talked about smoking at gas pumps, hypothetical moms, stealing skateboards from department stores and... oh yea, art and drawing and stuff! Dig in!

First off, introduce yerself! What's your creative background?

  --Hello! I post stuff on instagram under the name thisisasandwich, more people probably know me by that than my given name: Ryan Kelley if anyone cares to get formal. I'm basically just another anonymous avatar with a nonsense name attached floating around instagarble posting my drivel and liking posts of people I've never met. I'm a self taught artist in the sense that I've had no formal training. I've managed to surround myself with a group of creatively diverse friends throughout my life that have opened my eyes to a lot of stuff art wise that I may have otherwise overlooked. They are my defacto teachers. So yeah, I mostly just draw and paint and have sort of been a hermit and haven't taken part in many shows or anything like that. In the future though I would really like to do more shows, attend more shows, etc.. more face to face stuff you know, the "networking" artists are supposed to do?  I've been really bad at that thus far. I actually just
 did a flea market last weekend. It was the first event like that I ever took part in and one of the best experiences I've ever had. I have always really slacked when it comes to "marketing" myself or my art. I hate even using that term. The flea market vibe was so unpretentious and layed back though, I really dug it. My stuff is generally that way too. Its not super polished high minded fine art, at least I don't think of it that way. Its just kind of folky and jokey and dumb but fun. 

I mean, I want whatever I'm doing to make a strong impression visually, whether its a painting commission or a panel comic, and I surely take pride in my work, but at the end of the day most of my stuff is pretty light hearted and just kind of goofy.

How did you get into skateboarding, and how has it affected your drawing style, your creative outlook?        

 --Well, I got my first board when I was 14 ('93/94). It was a barely used Schmitt Stix handed down from an older relative. I had no frame of reference as to what the thing was and wasnt presented with any example of how to use it though. I didnt have friends who skated or anything, so I got tired of kicking around my driveway on it pretty quickly. I was more into graffiti back then anyway, so I just wrote all over the thing and threw it in the basement. (kind of a funny aside: the relative i got it from asked for it back years later when boards of that same era started going for hundreds and thousands of dollars on the internet. I was like "sure you can have it back.." and gave it back to him just covered nose to tail with the ugliest, blackest marker tags. Needless to say he was bummed on me.) I didnt really think about  skating again for a few years, until I was about 17 and met some friends of a friend a few towns over who skated. I watched them skating around in front of a friends house one day, couple weeks later they showed me Mouse, something sort of clicked and I saw how much fun you can have on a board. I was so dumb and scared to ask where to get a board so I ended up just stealing one when I saw it on the rack at Dick's sporting goods. Total kook move on many levels. Thing had a wack shape, fuckin plastic wheels, ABEC pea gravel bearings. Just a barely rolling piece of garbage, but thats what i tried to learn on until I finally asked somebody and went to a legit skateshop and bought an actual board: a Rudy Johnson Girl. That was 1997. I was really into painting graffiti then though, that was like my full time thing and I didn't really devote much time or pay much attention to skateboarding until 98 or 99 when I met some other local kids and would skate around downtown and cause trouble with them. It was wierd though, I was like an older kook who was terrible at skating and always writing on stuff and putting up stickers at spots. I sort of had a little rep though, like they knew who I was because of graffiti so I kind of got a pass I guess? I wouldn't have rolled with me if I was them haha. As far as skateboarding influencing my drawing style,  I wouldn't say it did until about '99 when I saw the "life is joy, life is pain" graphic that Todd Bratrud did for Consolidated Skateboards. To this day thats still my favorite board graphic. Something about it, the mix of sentiment, the comic/cartoony style, and the boldness of the image really appealed to me in a way that graphics hadn't before. Plus coming from graffiti, I was familiar with the work Todd had done for LifeSucksDie magazine which gave it the layer of context I guess I needed in order to give it more than just a passing glance on the wall at the skate shop. That particular image had a little back story to it. Seeing that was really influential for me to start drawing different things other than just drawing letters all the time. I guess I was a late bloomer, I say that as if I've bloomed.

 What's your process for drawing? How does a piece come together for you, start to finish?  

I would say it always starts with an idea, or at least a fragment of an idea that I think I could build a visual narrative around. I don't often just sit and doodle random shapes or anything. I never found that to help me loosen me up, or get me out of a creative slump. Most of what I do is trying to either express an idea I have or add on to a previous idea, or build a tangent off of someone else's idea. If I think an idea for a drawing or piece has legs and is interesting enough, then I'll source reference material and plan out a composition, sometimes sketch out a couple versions, think about a color palette, just try to have it be as cohesive as I can. Other times I simply overhear someone say something dumb or whatever.. "I always think outside the box" for example, I overheard someone say that recently and pictured a huge box falling out of the sky on them.
 So theres a possible idea for a drawing, a guy walking down the street saying to his friend how he always thinks outside the box. Meanwhile, little does he know, in the frame theres an angry box falling from the sky and then it covers him and hes trapped and the box just says something like "not today". Thats a not very funny example, but as far as the process goes, its that simple sometimes. Hear something, or have a random thought, try to draw it.

Influences? Inspirations?

Well, I have a son who is 15 months old now, and he's like learning to walk and talk and subjugate his body to his will, so for me just watching him grow and play and figure life out is the most inspiring thing I've ever seen. Hes like a little uninhibited critter just trying everything with no frame of reference; a sponge looking for water. I watch him and I can see him thinking and coming up with ideas in his head. I watched him figure out how a doorknob works the other day which was like woah dude, you seriously just taught yourself that!. So thats hugely inspiring for me right now to watch that stuff happen first hand.  Of course also theres a ton of art out there that I see that gets me hyped and inspires me to want to try a different medium, or attempt a different style or look or take a different approach. Going skating is always a good time too. I dont know, I get most of my inspiration from just being out in the world,
 looking around, listening.

You just put out an art book called "This Took Me All Year", which is chock full of sweet comics, drawings and illustrations, talk about how it came together.. (check it out here and buy it!)

    I had made a book at the end of 2012 of drawings and paintings I did that year on a www.website. I called it "Wait, what?" Which someone told me was "a great title". It was probably the most relevant art book to come out that year, if ever. Problem was it was too good (and expensive to produce and poorly   -read: not at all- advertised) so very few people even knew about it. I only ordered 2 copies from the wwwebsite and they cost like $40,000 each if I remember correctly. I had to mortgage one of my houses to cover the cost. The layout tool online was kind of annoying too, it was like draggy and droppy so it was pretty easy, but I couldnt overlap the images or layer anything. It just had this boring and flat feel, no texture. So a few months into 2013 I knew I wanted to try to do another book, but this time I wanted do the layout myself with no templates, just all freeform. My idea was to just layer drawings on other drawings on top of jpegs
 gathered from the world wide internet in a kind of collage. Digital cut and paste. Theres no, like, plot or particular order, Its very spastic, but I'm happy with how it turned out and the flow. The cover image is a snail writing "this took me all year" in slime on a leaf. I thought that was a funny allusion to the fact that all the work inside was done literally within a year and sort of grimy and slimy. Its basically a compendium of random drawings, and comics. Some of my favorite highlights I produced that year.  As far as actual production of the book, it took me a couple months of the following year to figure out how to use photoshop well enough to organize it, then a friend of a friend was going to print it so I gave the file to him on a flash drive and just forgot about it for another year or so. Things were pretty hectic around that time too. We had the new baby, work was busy, and I was doing a bunch of new drawings and other art stuff. The
 friend of a friend never ended up doing the printing and I got the flash drive back and just threw it in a drawer without much thought. Then recently some friends were doing this flea market and they asked if I wanted to get a table and try to sell some stuff. I was psyched, but a little worried I didn't have enough wares to peddle. So I figured I would do a small run, 30 copies, of the book and see what happens.

The letters "Y" and "L", what do they mean to you? 

    -Good times, laughs at others expense, never being sorry for partying.. Those letters break rules man. They dont care what you think either. When they get together, things happen. They smoke at gas pumps and write on things.

Do you listen to anything when you draw? Skate? Any jams lately?

   When I'm drawing I like pretty mellow music usually, Soma FM was my go to station on Itunes for a couple years..  I definitely go on kicks sometimes though where its like all old country, or rock and roll, or hip hop. I love hardcore gangster rappers like Willy Smith and Drizzy and them.. any of the real hip hoppers like all the yungs and 'lil's.  And  rap ballads like fuck the police and ante up.. Lately I've been listening to more podcasts than music though. I think podcasts are cool because I like to hear interesting people in conversation. Ted talks too, those are always interesting.

I wont wear headphones while skating ever.. Thats a pet peeve of mine, I really dislike seeing some kook at a park or pushing down the street with both earbuds in.. come on man. Both earbuds? At least leave one out so you can hear whats going on around you. The sounds are part of skating in my opinion. You want to drown that shit out with what, some disposable bullshit you can hear again literally whenever you want, or some shit you've heard a million times? That rumble of bearings, pop of the board, shing of a rail, crunch of a grind, screeching  urethane, thats life happening right now man, it only happens one time, and in real time. There should be a sense of urgency to be aware of whats unfolding around you, it may never happen again, you're short changing your experience by voluntarily blocking one of your senses in my opinion. Maybe thats corny and I'm being a little dramatic or old and cranky, but seriously, I want to hear all the noises of
 skating, thats part of the experience to me. Its about engaging with the terrain, the board, the sounds, the other people at the spot. Headphones are not for when youre riding your skateboard, headphones are for like when you're at home and you hear your mom yell up the stairs and you know shes probably yelling for you to take the garbage out to the curb or whatever, but you also know that she won't come all the way up the stairs because shes fuckin lazy and tired, and you just need to buy yourself a few minutes until she over exerts herself with all the yelling and needs to lay on the couch and ultimately she forgets about you and the garbage altogether because now shes totally lost in some singing pageant or Frasier re-runs or whatever, I dont know, whatever  stupid shit hypothetical moms watch on tv. The point is she was yelling some shit you didn't want to hear so you throw on your beats by Dre headphones and listen to a few tracks off the new Bj√∂rk album and get weird in your room. You don't take out the garbage. Somebody else will probably take care of it, maybe not. Maybe it'll just pile up until the neighbors complain. Whatever. Thats fine at home, but when you wear your headphones to a skatespot, know that your behavior is wierd and anti-social and nobody is going to clap for that blunt kickflip out you just made because you wouldn't hear it even if we did and we're smarter than exerting extra energy for no reason during a sesh. Lose the headphones, for real. Lady du du or M.C. 'lil yung flash in the pan or whatever will be waiting for you after the session.

What's your take on Flameboy TM

Flameboy the world industries icon? I mean, I would say It probably isn't the thing Marc Mckee would want to be remembered for as an artist you know? You're talking about a guy with some pretty well known board graphics under his belt. I will say that I think Flameboy is a character who has persisted a long time due in large part to the fact that he lives to help others. The same way wet willy, or the Hook-Ups girls do, or how D-3's do, but in a way that also shows people how to help themselves you know? I feel like Flameboy doesn't believe in holding out for a hero: His ultimate goal is that one day, when the people need a hero, they can be the hero themselves.

What's your next project?

Well, in the abstract- artistically and generally, I just want to keep growing and try to stay open to new ideas and change. Be a good dad and husband. Eventually get around to doing another book, maybe one thats a little more cohesive somehow, like with a theme? Maybe a children's book? I dont know. More drawings and paintings for sure. I want to make more zines, write more words, take on fun commissions, try to skate when I can. Smell flowers, breathe, create, just stay humble and thankful for the opportunities I get. I'm going to continue to think big but feel small.

 -(closing words?)-       Thanks to supportive family and friends, '09 / YL. And big thanks to you for asking me to do this interview! To anyone who stayed until the end, thanks to you too, I do have a tendency to be long winded.

follow Ryan on instagram, really. and check out his store!