The Motorcycle Diaries
Words/interview: Renko Heuer
Born in the Midwest and raised in Portland, where he’s also currently based, Ryan Everson is an artist who keeps returning to a handful of topics we all have to deal with at some point in our lives: questions of loss, absence, the concept of home, our struggle with time, the things we fear, or feel nostalgic about. His evocative installations and sculptures often include large-format illuminated typography but are otherwise not limited to any set of materials or formats; still there’s a clear vision, a signature to them: it’s this feeling of being cut-off, of letting go, or taking off into uncharted territory – in other words: of change, be it physical, spiritual, or emotional. We reached out to Ryan to discuss knots, motorcycle trips, and that “transient generation” he’s part of.
Since the concept of “home” seems to be so important to a lot of your work: Portland has been such a buzzing place for the last half decade or so; is it what you’d call home these days? Or rather the Midwest? Where are you based right now anyway? And are you alone out there? Currently I am living in Portland, Oregon, which I recently returned to after living in Colorado for three years. I was born in the Midwest but was raised in the Portland area so I think of myself as a native to the Pacific Northwest. “Home” is definitely something I think a lot about, especially being part of such a transient generation. As a kid I always associated “home” with a place, but as I grew up and moved around, it became more of a mindset. “Alone Out There” pulls its inspiration from that mindset. When one risks comfort and predictability for a deeper fulfillment, there is often a subsequent isolation, and that’s what “Alone Out There” addresses.
Risking things for that deeper fulfillment, do you believe there’s a possibility to reverse that feeling of isolation, or is it a feeling one has to deal with forever after? I think that feeling is unavoidable, at least for me. I wouldn’t want to reverse that feeling though; it puts my life into perspective. It shakes me up and allows me to reflect. It’s hard to do that when you get into a comfortable routine.
I also like that term you used, “transient generation” - can you describe that feeling of belonging to this generation some more? How would you define this generation? People seem to be much less connected to place than generations past. I have friends moving all over the world for employment, school, and fulfillment. We bounce all over and are connected to people and places across all kinds of boundaries and divides. I don’t think that was as easy for my parents, or anyone prior for that matter. The world is much more accessible for a number of reasons and I am sure it will only keep expanding. I don’t think I have ever met anyone my age looking to buy furniture they are going to keep for the rest of their lives, probably because they may find themselves 3000 miles away in the next few months.
Have you ever thought of going to another city and leaving your works all over the place (like Robert Montgomery just did in Berlin over the last few years)? I would love to work internationally on a body of work. That is something I hope to be able to do in the future. Much of my inspiration comes from traveling and working outside my studio. Challenging myself to work in new places pushes my work to stay fresh and exciting.
How’s life these days anyway? Life is really great these days. I am leaving for Taiwan this weekend to help install two large kinetic public works for Pete Beeman, an artist I have been working for on a few projects since I moved to Portland. I have a motorcycle tour planned for the end of the month, not sure where to yet. I have been working on a new body of work that I am really excited about, which is going to put me out in the wilderness. I have been trying to learn a lot of knots; I am continuously impressed with people who know the exact type of knot for a certain situation. I have been teaching myself about vegetable gardening and general engine mechanics; two very different things but both incredibly fulfilling. Plus I live in one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world, so things are pretty great.
How do you mostly learn these things? Do you go to libraries, or look things up online, or do you actually meet people who know a lot about these fields? Paying closer attention to the details in my life that I find interesting. Just working and talking with friends and making time to challenge myself and think a bit out of my ordinary. I read books or articles on the internet. I recently went through the Ashley Book of Knots, which is the bible of knot tying and learned a lot, however I really need physical experience. I can spend all evening tying different knots from a book, but learn more from a friend as we try to secure some plywood in the back of a truck.
So would you call yourself a true renaissance man? I am no renaissance man. I do however enjoy knowing how things work and being able to make and fix the things I surround myself with. I often like to think of myself as a Jack-Of-All-Trades, however I constantly run into people who fit that descriptor better than I. As an artist, there are so many pressures that are trying to define your practice. I try hard to leave all my avenues open and not define myself as a master of one thing.
An amateur for life then? I don’t think amateur is the right word. I simply mean I would rather be versed in a wide variety of skills than a master in one. I want the freedom to be able to move between mediums and interests. I don’t want to feel constricted or be stuck from creating something new because I am afraid of a medium.
That motorcycle tour you mentioned earlier sounds nice… am I right in assuming that you don’t rush things, but rather take it easy on the streets in order to see all the things everyone seems to overlook all the time? A few years ago a friend and I took a 7000 mile, month long trip across the western United States. We set out with no plan, no destinations and really no experience with touring, or motorcycles for that matter. It was simply amazing. Being out on an adventure, making decisions in the moment and feeling completely unrestricted is not something that’s easy to come by. There is such a sense of freedom. I will forever be chasing that feeling.
Creating which work of art came closest to resembling that feeling you’ve been chasing since that motorcycle experience? All my works spark a memory or an experience and become like a collected journal. That feeling has been with me since the trip and has changed as I have had time to reflect. All my work since then has been influenced in some way by it, just like how my collected experiences shape the person I am. I don’t think there is a pivotal work that can sum up the experience, and I am not looking to create one. I don’t want to capture a fleeting feeling, but chase it for as long as I can.
What are you more afraid of: forgetting what was right and/or true about the past - or rather of the future in all its undefined uncertainty? For me it’s less about being afraid, but more about the difficulties of navigating through the past while not letting the future feel constricting. I often find myself constantly working for tomorrow and not being a part of the present. Much of my work deals with this internal struggle.
How do you decide which medium to use - and what comes first anyway: the concept, the title, or does it all start with an object usually? I try hard to not let my work be dictated by a medium. There are mediums I enjoy working with more, but I always try to put the concept first. If a piece needs to be made in foam I try and learn how to work with it, otherwise my concept suffers. The opposite of that though, is that there are some days where I just want to work with something specific, like wood. In which case I will think back through some of my ideas to find one that I’ve put off that calls for wood. The medium can provide a way for me to get re-excited about projects I have put on the backburner. As far as titling the works - the works generally start as a feeling or an experience, and then manifest into three-dimensional forms. The title generally comes from spending time with the work and connecting with them.
Have you ever tried just writing, as in poetry, haikus, minimal short stories? I used to write a lot more than I do now. For the last few years I have just been jotting down short phrases I hear, or words that sound beautiful together. It can take me months to mull over a simple phrase before it turns into something three-dimensional. I always wished I were a songwriter and often think that I would like to try. Maybe that’s something that will come out in some work someday.
How would your songs sound if you were a songwriter? And then I guess you’d only write and produce them for others to perform? Just the thought of performing makes me uneasy. I don’t know how they would sound. I have always been very interested in music and I can’t function without it, but I am not sure how my very visual way of thinking would translate into a song. I admire people like Chad VanGaalen who can do both.
So that’s not you in “Maybe Tomorrow”? Oh no! I am not a performer and am completely mortified at the thought of being physically present in any of my pieces. A plastic armature taken from my body supports the costume in “Maybe Tomorrow.” For that piece I was experimenting with adding a presence in my pieces that is most often left empty. While the piece was up, it did make a lot of people uneasy.
Some of your other pieces have boats in them: could you imagine living on a boat? I have a deep desire to learn how to sail. Hopefully at some point I will learn and brave the open ocean. Right now I just fantasize about being alone out on the ocean. Maybe being out on a sailboat with no knowledge of sailing would force me to learn, or maybe I would be happy with just drifting.
Apart from working on new art, what are some of the things that define this “present” that you so often forget? I have a lot of hobbies. I seem to always have something new to get involved in and occupy my headspace. I shoot target archery, I ride motorcycles, play hockey, hike, race cars, the list goes on. I currently am researching how to build a wooden canoe and recently made a steel “commuter scooter” for my dad. I stay connected to people through working on projects and collaborating.
Finally, do you hate it when people mention nostalgia in relation to your work? No, I don’t hate it, however it has never been my intention to make work based purely on nostalgia. The underlying intention with much of my work is to recreate and re-imagine personal experiences that I know to be universal, like the struggle we all face with time, the desire to be remembered, and the fear and excitement we feel when facing the unknown.
So what’s next? I am currently starting on a new body of work that draws from the pieces that were recently on show at Gildar Gallery in Denver. I have been honing my photography skills and mapping out places in the wilderness to set up some new pieces. I’ve got some new work going out to Seattle and Denver soon and a lot of trips planned for the summer. Plus I have some collaborative projects in the works with a few friends and artists that I am really looking forward to.