Colleen Heslin Interviews Ryan Quast, Summer 2010
Abstract Painting, Storner Drawings and a 5 year plan

Ryan Quast lives and works in Vancouver BC.  His first solo exhibition was titled Photographs from a Fan Boys Camera in 2003 at The Crying Room, a project where he stocked omnipresent Vancouver School Art Stars Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas and Rodney Graham.  Ryan is currently curating a series of group shows at the Chapel in Vancouver for the month of October, while also working on ink drawings in his apartment studio and on-going public intervention work where he wraps up his belongings in boxes and leaves them for unassuming strangers to take. Ryan also knows how to get down.


Your work has become much more insular since you left Emily Carr, the most notable shift was your departure from abstract painting to stoner drawings as you call them, while you still produce public sculpture installation/intervention work.  It strikes me mostly because when I met you, you were one of the few people that I knew who were working with and thinking about abstract painting in a serious way, as a relevant practice in contemporary art, whereas now it has become a popular and seemingly pervasive area of focus.  Can you tell me a bit about your thoughts on the shift in your work and your thoughts about abstract painting and stoner art?

It's funny; the shift in my practice has been such a long process of figuring out a way to keep making work that would inspire me to make more work. When I was at Emily Carr I was really focused on making paintings that were more about color, the idea of  "What makes a painting?” shapes, and so on. I spent a great deal of time moving paint around, and more or less just playing with material. During my time at Emily Carr, I was really against making representational/or figurative based work. I think, reflecting back, I was in opposition to making that kind of work, because I had seen so much of it. Coming from Alberta, my exposure to abstract painting was very limited, so when I had a space, and the drive to paint I automatically went towards abstract painting. Abstract painting is exciting; primarily for opportunity you are afforded, in terms of being able to experiment.    

After leaving Emily Carr in 2005, I spent a great deal of time just floating around experimenting with making different types of work. I became lost in what it was I wanted to say within the context of art. I honestly got caught in this rut, where half way through every painting I was working on, I would decide I hated it. I spent the better half of about four years not making any paintings, but always painting. It was a really frustrating situation for me, because as much as I love making sculpture, and public based sculpture installations/interventions, painting is my first love. I started thinking that I had to go back to the very beginning of my practice, basically drawing from my own history, as a way of developing as an artist. When I was in my teens, I can remember, always carrying around one of those black hardcover sketchbooks, and drawing lots of unrelated images on each page, coffee cups, beer cans, band logos, skulls, and the typical things that teen boy draw. I am sure if I found an old sketchbook from that time, I would feel very embarrassed, but I enjoyed doing it at the time because, it was what I thought "Art" should look like, messy, and weird. I began to reconsider those high school doodles, and try to twist them around to a degree, by combining this high school idea of what art is, and this educated understanding of how art is made. The current "Stoner" drawings are essentially a way for me to loosen up as an artist. In retrospect, the problem I had with my abstract paintings is that they became to rigid, formulated, and at the end boring. The stoner drawings are really fun for me because, I get to exercise a certain amount of technical ability, but then also get lost in these little drawings, where the end result is less important than the act itself.

Right, because your approaching the work with less preciousness and more openness, which is funny because I think of abstract work as open and playful, but work that succeeds in the end is work that maintains a sense of discovery and experimentation. Do you begin these drawings with a specific or
general idea of what they will become, or use any reference material?

I start with a basic idea of what the drawing will be, or be about, and the end result is usually totally different then the starting point. I use all sorts of reference material, a really large range of different sources. I use the reference material as a starting point then build around it, in it, or over it. The thing is, I am always trying to improve my practice both conceptually, and on a technical level, so using reference material is really important. I have this understanding that my current work is really about building up the courage to fail more. I know how shitty that sounds but the idea is that maybe I will begin to treat the work as more of an experiment, and worry less about the final product.

No I get it, sometimes I like to see the odd failure, it shows that your taking risks and keeps things interesting.  What kind of work are you stoaked about or inspired by these days?

I can't really pick. I 'am constantly seeing lots of work right now that has me pumped. Ex-Vancouver resident Wil Murray's paintings are works that I’ve been interested in for a long time. Locally Dan Siney's current series of photographs are exciting. Those two are the first to pop into my mind.

I know you did some studies in London England a while ago, do you think about leaving Vancouver or are you happy to stay and live/work here?

Leaving Vancouver has been something that I have planned on doing for a long time. I think that making work in other cities, or other places where the surroundings are new is very important. The thing is though, you have to be confident in the work you are making if you are going somewhere with the intention of developing an art practice. I never felt as if I was far enough along in terms of my discipline. That feeling has changed in last year and a bit so I'm now considering, at the very least, going outside of Canada for a year. Vancouver is my base. I like the scene here, and I like the work coming out from here.

600 post-it note flower ink drawings

That leads another question; if you leave Vancouver where do you see yourself going?

As far as moving goes, I am focusing on going to New York for a little while then I would like to end up in Paris. I sort of have a five-year plan that includes both of those cities. Right now I'm in the process of finishing up some proposals for artist run center's outside of B.C.

socks, mixed media(t), brick, dryer lint(b)


Thanks Ryan




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