Ryan Harrison’s poetic philosophies concerning woodblock imagery is a haunting exploration into self reflective spaces and what that visually could look like.
“I was initially trying to create these intimate spaces to look at this idealization of male hood and trying to show more vulnerability.”
Grappling with themes of adolescence, time and memory, the scale of his prints induce the viewer into an immersive landscape of, “innocent genuine curiosity with the world; a kind of childhood wonderment.” A sense of impermanence is also further imbued in Harrison’s process. He doesn’t work from any reference materials such as photographs, it is all mental images from his day to day observations. The work is incepted by being present, aware and alive: “by filtering everything through memory and not through direct observation you can get to a point where it’s kind of more nostalgic and the space [to create] is more available.”
Rachel: Introduce yourself
Ryan: I’m Ryan Harrison. I’m currently a Senior printmaking major at the San Francisco Art Institute, a political artist, and shop tech.
R: What is your passion/ the driving force for you to create?
H: I’d say my passion for art comes from a need to express myself, and interpret my surroundings. That can be both physical and mental, I use art as a way for my brain to sort through the bullshit and find what is important.
R: Tell me a bit about your background.
H: I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I started making art at a very young age, and never really stopped. A big turning point for me was discovering printmaking. My mom signed me up for a class at a small local studio, and I begrudgingly went. As soon as I pulled the paper off of the plate, I was hooked. From there I went to college for a year in Portland Oregon, at the Pacific Northwest College of art, which I didn’t like too much. I came back to Albuquerque that following summer (2014) and worked as an intern at the Tamarind Institute of Lithography. Then I moved here to San Francisco, and started at SFAI.
R: Why wood blocking?
H: I choose woodblock because I like the rich black that I can get, as well as the immediacy of the textures. There is a rich history to woodblock, which I am honored to be a part of. The simplicity of the medium allows for mass proliferation of information, and also a large amount of experimentation.
R: I’m drawn to the physicality of wood blocking and the feeling the print ensues from the dynamism of motion. It is like cause and effect, action/reaction within envisioning these motions that were required to carve such prints. Does this juxtaposition of process and art product fuel and further inform your personal practice? Or how do you relate to the physicality of your process compared to other mediums?
H: Carving the blocks is very meditative. I definitely see the remnants of the actions done to the block in the print. I think that’s the really interesting part of this process heavy medium, it is a kind of translation. You can draw your image on the block, but in carving, it translates those images into another form. The lines become slightly divorced from the initial conception, giving it new life.
R: What is your aim for viewers to take away from your work?
H: My hope is that viewers will look at my work and have a second to breathe. A second to be happy or sad, to just be a person and exist right here on this ground.
R: Where do you draw inspiration?/How do other art mediums inform and influence your practice?
H: I draw my inspiration a lot from what I see in my everyday life. Since I mostly work with landscapes, I’m always looking around while I’m riding my bike or the bus. Other forms definitely inform me, I’m interested in how other artists have portrayed similar spaces and textures with other mediums, but for the most part my inspiration is what I see outside.
R: How do you sustain an art/creative practice and or lifestyle?
H: Ha, that’s the real trick huh. I work as a shop tech at SFAI, in the printmaking studios. So I have access to a lot of the materials that I need, and then am able to pick up some scrap wood here and there. I also sell my work online.
R: How do you define success? Individual vs. societal?
H: I define success for me as making something I’m proud of, something I’m happy with. Societally, I think success is making something that can be seen by others, I don’t need to sell anything or have any materialistic success. I guess I’d say I’ve made it when I own my own print shop. That would be the start of success.
R: There’s a lot of motion in everything that you’re making and it almost alludes to a sort of escapism experience, like looking up at the sky and thinking everything is okay, but everything isn’t okay.
H: It’s kind of that chaotic Melancholia when looking at my work; you’re grounded and you’re here and you’re in this space and you can breathe.
But I also try to capture a motion in my work that goes beyond the physical motion of the wind. A motion that we all feel, the motion of time and continuing to move forward through life. It’s a large motion that exists in the history books, but also one we see as individuals when we can look at where we are in life and be grateful and feel like crap at the same time. A recognition of place in the ever moving continuum of this world.
R: How can people access your work?
H: People can access my work in a few ways. I have a website www.shakyhandspress.com
Or my Instagram, @ryan_prints and @shakyhandspress
R: What is next for you?
H: Looking forward, I am excited about getting Shaky Hands Press off the ground. I’m looking for artists to work with under that press, and start building the base for a printing company.
R: Thanks so much for your time Ryan, looking forward to seeing your new projects actualize!
H: Thanks for doing this Rachel, I really appreciate it!