ARTIST FEATURE - RYAN McGINNESS
'Mindscape 12' 2020, by Ryan McGinness courtesy of his website.
RYAN McGINNESS, THE ARTIST BEHIND OUR DESIGNING DESTINY PUZZLE, USES SYMBOLOGY IN HIS PAINTINGS TO REFLECT ON PERSONAL AND SHARED EXPERIENCES.
Ryan McGinness is an American artist, living and working in New York, New York. Known for his extensive vocabulary of original graphic drawings that use the visual language of public signage, corporate logos, and contemporary symbology, Ryan is credited with elevating the status of the icon to fine art through his paintings, sculptures, installations, and books.
From growing up in the surf and skate culture of Virginia Beach, VA, to interning at the Andy Warhol Museum as a curatorial assistant, Ryan's work draws on experiences, both personal and cultural, to create layered work through symbology. One particular series that Ryan calls ‘Mindscapes’ reflects how our minds run on RAM (Random Access Memories). In these paintings, hundreds of the artist’s drawings are collaged together in paint through silkscreening. The drawings symbolize memories, dreams, and psychedelic visions.
Ryan's work is in the permanent public collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Cincinnati Art Museum, MUSAC in Spain, and the Taguchi Art Collection in Japan.
We recently chatted with Ryan about the symbology within his work, his influences and what interested him in turning one of his paintings into a puzzle.
What most interested you in collaborating with Four Point Puzzles to turn your artwork into a puzzle?
I have had a puzzle in me for quite some time, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to get it out of me. (Actually, I have a few puzzles in me!) During the first few months of the pandemic, I encouraged Artist Rights Society to secure puzzle deals for their artists. But, nothing ever came of that. And then another opportunity came up to create a puzzle with a group of artists, but the quality of the project was not up to my standards, so I bailed. Everything has to be on point for me. Then, Micah Lexier recommended me to Four Point Puzzles. (Micah’s puzzle is very interesting. I haven’t seen anything like it.) Four Point Puzzles is professional, carefully curated, and the quality of the puzzles is superb. Four Point Puzzles takes the medium seriously. That’s what interests me most.
Our Designing Destiny puzzle, featuring Ryan's painting from 2008 of the same name.
From working at The Andy Warhol Museum to reinventing his iconic Flowers series, it seems that Warhol has had a big influence on your work, Can you tell us a bit about that?
Where should I begin? He contributed numerous permissions to art history, and I have certainly benefited from that. Warhol is often cited when people write about my work. I suppose this is for the obvious reason: silkscreening. Or perhaps because we’re both products of Carnegie Mellon University. Or because I worked at The Andy Warhol Museum. I finally decided to address his work head-on by reinterpreting the Flowers. Andy Warhol created the series in 1964 and 1965, and continued the series through the late 1960s. He produced over 900 Flowers paintings in total. My goal is to match his output in terms of quantities and all the different sizes for the paintings. I’m also working on a book that I hope can contribute to the scholarship of the Flowers paintings. I believe they are largely misunderstood.
Select drawings by Ryan McGinness from the 'Designing Destiny' painting and puzzle.
Designing Destiny is from a series of paintings called Mindscapes which reflect how our minds run on RAM (Random Access Memories). Do the symbols (drawings) in this painting reflect on your personal memories or are they a reference to a broader, shared cultural experience?
There is a broad range from the universal to the personal. For example, Drawing #4 is a drawing of someone seeing, thinking, and speaking the same thing. It is a drawing about the notion of symbolizing the same thing three different ways (sight, thought, and language.) It’s a universal conundrum we all must deal with. An example of a drawing that reflects a shared cultural experience is Drawing #21. This symbolizes Einstein’s famous quote, “God does not play dice with the universe.” I always thought that was a nice way to acknowledge a god in a godless universe.
On the inside of your puzzle box, we have included an index of several of the drawings in this painting (see 5 examples above). You note references like a Dead Kennedys album cover and a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. Can you tell us a bit more about a couple of the drawings included in this painting.
The descriptions on the inside of the box are indeed a bit cryptic. Here are a few more in-depth insights:
Drawing #7: This is a symbol of eyes radiating out from a center. It is a psychedelic vision I had in which I felt every singular point in the universe could open up to reveal another dimension. I’m curious if the psychedelic experience can be visually communicated with the language of universal symbols.
Drawing #12: This is a memento mori image that not only reminds us of death, but that we are all connected in the afterlife. Hence, the rainbow connecting the two skulls.
Drawing #20: This is a velvet rope on a skateboard. The velvet rope is relaxed, allowing anyone to come in. That was my experience in skate culture growing up. Everyone is allowed in.
'Mindscape 66' 2020, by Ryan McGinness courtesy of his website.
One thing that I found most enjoyable about assembling this puzzle and studying your painting was the surprising scale used for the different drawings. Is there a relation between the size of the drawings and the importance of their symbology?
In the psychedelic space, there is no size. And in the mind, there is no scale. All dimensions are equalized. This is expressed in the “worlds-within-worlds” within my paintings. The seemingly absurd scale shifts among the different elements reflect this. There are no numbers delineating space. There are only fractal-based dimensions where all places are equalized. When you are everywhere at once, there is no measured distance between anything.
What are you working on right now? Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or collaborations that we can share with our readers?
I’m working on two exhibitions for 2022. One is at Miles McEnery Gallery in NYC, and one is at Baldwin Gallery in Aspen. I’m also trying to finish that Warhol Flower Icon series of paintings and book. I always have a bunch of books in production. I love making books. I love making things you can pick up and hold. And in some cases, put together.
'Taipei Dangdai 1' 2019, by Ryan McGinness courtesy of his website.