EK Interview: Ryan McLennan

art blog - Ryan McLennan - Empty Kingdom

Ryan McLennan, featured in 2010, is an Elk.  He turns into a human sometimes to travel the land and spread wisdom.  He has been alive since 1453 but unlike Merlin, he does not age backwards, he subsists on a diet of pure wheatgrass.  His art is amazing and his interview follows.  Read it.  Oh yeah, and today is his FUCKING BIRTHDAY BOO-YAH!


Where are you from?  Tell us a story that stands out from your childhood.

Virginia. I don’t remember this, but my mom recently told me something I said when I was maybe four years old.  She and my sister were upset about a cat that was killing a bird in our yard. I looked out the window, looked at them, very dryly stated “that’s nature” and walked away.

Who has been the single most influential or supporting person throughout your life?  How have they helped you reach where you are?

My mom and dad by far are the most supportive people in my life.

What advice could you give aspiring artists?

You really have to love what you do and make sacrifices for it. Don’t have too high hopes because you will be let down.  Expect to work jobs you don’t like for little pay so you can just afford a cheap apartment. If you go to college for art, you won’t be qualified (on paper) for many jobs. You will struggle, or you could be at the right place at the right time and be just fine. There is no telling.

art blog - Ryan McLennan - Empty Kingdom

Walk us through your process, start with the idea to development and finally your execution.  How long have you been working on your technique?

Ideas generally come from the books I read and the films I watch. I spend quite a bit of time with both. After I have the idea, that’s pretty much it. I make the painting. Rarely do I make preliminary sketches or drawings. When I do, I think they look awful and distract me from the image of the finished piece in my head. Sometimes I do get stuck part way through and figure it out as I go along, which to me, is hardly enjoyable and will take too much time. I’ve been working this way for about six years.

How has your physical approach changed since you began?  How have your brush strokes changed?  What about the colors you use or the emotion that you bring to any single piece?

The paper is getting bigger and the brushes are getting smaller. When the imagery gets larger, there is much more detail. If an animal is painted life size, or close to it, you see all the fur, feathers, scales and so on.

art blog - Ryan McLennan - Empty Kingdom

In much of your work there are bears (predators) in the form of plants being ripped apart and consumed by herbivores, what ideas or themes do you aim to illustrate by this simultaneous manipulation and maintenance of roles?

I don’t paint those anymore, but they were an important part of my work a few years ago. It was less about a role change and more about what was not present. There was no living vegetation and no large predators. These were embodied in that form, a form that brought the animals sustenance and shelter and represented what used to take their lives. Environmentally, those bear forms represented the loss of forest land and near extinction of wolves, mountain lions and grizzlies in North America. These thoughts I am not currently focused on, but were essential in forming the landscape I am still working in.

What was the idea behind “The Storyteller”?  What is the subject representative of?  And why is (he/she/does it matter?) missing a leg?

The moose is a he, he has antlers. I do not know why he is missing a leg.  In some cases animals missing a leg will have a corresponding deformity in the opposite antler, which explains the problem on his head.  That was one of a series of seven portrait paintings.  My interest in portrait and documentary photography combined with having just watched “The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia” was the motivation. The documentary is the not the greatest, but does shed light on how photographers can falsely represent a culture by staging what they think would make an interesting picture.

art blog - Ryan McLennan - Empty Kingdom

Tell us about “Innocence”.

That painting is straightforward and lighthearted.  Silly. Honestly, I don’t really like making a painting like that, but sometimes it just happens.

art blog - Ryan McLennan - Empty Kingdom

What responses have you gotten at different shows?  Were they what you expected?

I never have expectations. Varying interpretations are always interesting and I feel some people really nail it, and I like that. I get just as much pleasure out of hearing an explanation that couldn’t be any further from my intentions.

What parts of yourself are visible in your work?

Quite a bit I’d say. My thoughts, interests, demeanor, how I present myself and what I surround myself with.

What has been the inspiration for the subject matter in your work?  What attracted you to the animals you’ve chosen?

The animals I started painting were native to Virginia and I would see them on hikes or trips to the park. I eventually expanded out to the edges of North America. Since I moved to NY I have been painting lots of squirrels, rats and mice.

What’s the dream series that’s just not feasible for you at the current time.

I don’t believe an artist should answer this question. When I do have an exhibition of my “dream series” I really would not want anyone to know that it is my “dream series”.

What are you currently working on?

I have an exhibition titled “Abominations”, which will open at the Joshua Liner Gallery in NYC on October 20th.

If you could be any tree, what tree would you be?

I don’t know much about trees. Sycamores are nice?

http://www.ryanmclennan.com/