[as interviewed by Ian Robet McKown 8.19.12]
|When looking through your online galleries, it becomes readily apparent that you are fairly familiar working with multiple-painting series. Is this an approach born from needing more than one piece to flash out an idea, or is it something you picked up in your formal training?
This really made me think. In college they really push you to develop a body of work around a concept. I’ve seen great shows where the cohesive element might have been style and technique more so than an overlapping idea. A lot of my work comes from research and introspection so sometimes I need a few pieces to work it out or the idea becomes more clear during the process so I have to go back and edit. My uncle took me with him a lot when he was running installation crews when he was a kid and installation work was the big thing back then. A lot of that vein is meant for museums or galleries, not really something many people would buy. He taught me to understand that a lot of art is problem solving or philosophy. College helped with that too. I don’t like Kandinsky but I can appreciate what he was trying to say. Having said all that I admire artists that produce for the sake of producing as well. Sometimes it’s great to develop a whole sleeve for someone, and sometimes it’s fun to do a 3 hour burner from start to finish just to enjoy it too.
Id say one clear common thread in many of your series and individual paintings is the idea of a blasted world-one where possibly cults have risen to rush the survivors and governments have come to show their true corruptness openly. Do you have any particular fascination with the occult, or cults, and what staements are you making about a society whose underbelly you portray as rotten and corrupt?
The whole idea of the H.A.V.EN project is something I’ve been working on for years and it’s what I chose to do my BFA thesis on so it’s definitely the most research I’ve done for a series. I’m stepping back from it for a while because I scratched that itch for now but Im sure I’ll come back to it in the future. I definitely picked something I’m interested in but some of this work, and some of the other work that include similar themes, are more autobiographical than they look on surface. I went to catholic school as a kid and have struggled with where I stand with that ever since. That created a lot of my interest in the occult and religious subject matter as well as symbolism. I don’t hate religion or people with faith, I actually prefer to look for the similarities and try to carve out an idea from that. I’m more interested in the historical side than the spiritual. Tattooing has given me a strong fascination with symbolism as well. I also grew up around a lot of fantasy, science fiction and horror and I love rock and roll so those things creep in sometimes. I hope the apocalyptic stuff has an educational quality to it. The idea was to invent a cult and produce propaganda for it using historically tested methods. It’s more about the recipe for propaganda than the end of days for me.
I sense a bit of salvation when i look at the children in your pieces.. Possibly a bit of your own personal feelings on how children may offer some sort of salvation. Am i way off on this?
I do believe we can change the world by the way we raise our children. The kids in the haven series are more about sinister brainwashing than salvation on the surface but whatever you bring to viewing a work of art becomes a part of it. Maybe your on to something deeper that I missed.
I know you have been involvedin quite a few public works projects over the yeares, and clearly you arent being asked to duplicate your regular fare. How do you approach such projects, and do you see it as lessening your art in any way to paint such contrary imagery?
Great question. I think being multi-faceted as an artist is ok as long as you believe in the project. I got into murals because I was encouraged by someone I have great respect for to give it a try. I didn’t have much interest in it until I learned about some of the tradition behind it and artists like the “tres grandes” who were carving out a take on an art form that is one of the first records of humanity. I have only painted a handful of murals and they were all collaborations which I really enjoy and a chance to work with people i respect. I don’t hunt down projects often, I have been lucky to have some offered to me and recently was put on a committee for a huge project at Redline gallery that I’m excited about. It’s another great opportunity to work with kids and people who continue to teach me about art like Carlos Fresquez. I have always used brushes as that was the way I was taught and I have met a great community as well as learned a tremendous amount. I like the collaborative aspect and I think it’s fun to take someones idea and produce something for them. Tattooing is the same way. People give you some creative control but often you are still producing something that helps them express themselves. The more experience I get the more personal expression seems to come with the project. I admire artists that either are asked to paint whatever they want or don’t bother with permission but for now if I can work outside with people I respect for a good cause I’m a happy guy.
Youve been teaching art to many “at risk” kids. How has that experience been for you? Has it changes how you approach art?
Teaching changed my life more than I can say. Just to get the chance was an honor. I have been at a High School in boulder for about 3 years now. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I do. I learn more from them and the rest of the staff than I teach them. The first thing I learned is that I don’t like the “at risk” label much. Every kid is at risk. I had a good home, problems like everyone else but I wasn’t getting my ass kicked or starving, shit I went to catholic elementary school for free because my mom taught there, she was the only real catholic in the family as far as I remember. I think teaching has changed more about how I approach life than art. Its a different trip, there are definitely things I don’t put on my website and a big part of my lack of Facebook because it’s a different world . I’m no saint and part of it is just growing up and realizing that the way people see you does matter. I’m still figuring out the juggling act. I don’t censor myself too much and I’m not perfect but it makes you realize that your high school art teacher was a human and made mistakes too. I’m taking a year off to make some other things happen but I love the connection I have with my students and I have a great time not answering any specific questions about tattooing. My go to answer when they want to know about machines or anything else is always find somebody to apprentice you when you graduate, I’m just here to help you draw.
From kowing you over the years, can safely sy that i dont see much of your own personal sufferings reflected in your art. Do you feel this ommission is intentional? Are you the type of artist who produces more or less when life becomes a bit of a struggle?
There is a lot of personal struggle in my work but I don’t like the be too literal about it. I think it’s more apparent in the hanged man series but that was still more about the struggles my family went through to get me here.
There are issues in my life I plan to work on in the future, art is very therapeutic for me, as for any artist I’m sure. I feel like I can be more honest as I get older. I am learning to juggle things better I think. I want to do personal stuff but I also want to do things like learn more about figurative shadows in oils just because it would be satisfying and I love painting. I like things to have a sense of humor too. My last series was pin up girls with ankle monitors on called “house arrest.” If I ever get my website updated I’ll put those on. I guess if I ever stop struggling I’ll know if it’s harder to create.
Im sure many young or new artists would like to hear your thoughts regarding getting a 4 year art degree. Do you think its helped you as an artist or hindered you in any way?
Because of choices I’ve made my 4 year art degree took over 10. I started college as a writing major and was offered a shop apprenticeship at bound by design at the same time. I loved to draw but didn’t have the drawing skills or confidence I needed to tattoo so I switched my major to art. I might do some things differently now but it was cool being in both of those environments at once. I was fortunate, and still am, to be around amazing artists every day. Some of the artists I admire have MFAs and some of them never saw the inside of their locker in high school. School opened up amazing opportunities for me, introduced me to teachers and peers that have been instrumental to me, and gave me skills i needed. It took a lot of time away from my family that I don’t get back too. I do well in that environment because of my learning style, there is no substitute for just opening a book or picking up a pencil, you don’t have to go to college for that but it helped me quite a bit. Don’t take out nine million dollars in loans to get an art degree so you can make money though, save your cash for lottery tickets.
Your works are all over the board in so far as medium. Do you hve any particular ones that you enjoy?
Oils and tattooing are my favorites. I do a lot of watercolor and ink which I think I’m better at but oils are my favorite to work with. My favorite thing is to put on some horror movies, have a cocktail and get out the liquin and terp. I like to be well versed enough in multiple mediums that I can pick the one I want to get the idea of the work across the best. The only downside to switching around so much is that I don’t spend as much time on one technique and it takes longer to get proficient. But I got time and It keeps me from getting burned out too.
You have until reently been involved with a local co-op gallery. As an artist, do you recommend this as a good option for artists wanting to estblish themselves a bit before moving on to traditional gallery representation?
I’m still with the Boxcar gallery. It has been a great experience overall. Exposure is important and getting your art on the walls is important, at least for me. A co-op gallery is cool because you do everything from advertisement to installation. It is a big commitment and if you don’t care about being a part of the ins and outs of everything it might not be for you. The right co-op can help knock some of the jitters out of showing your work. With the exposure you can create on the Internet now people can see your work in japan by way of Denver if you want. I still think there is something to be said for the gallery environment though. Something I’m trying to get better at is creating work for fun instead of a deadline. There have been times when I wanted more time to work out an idea and the deadlines can hurt too. I am trying to worry less about my resume and more about my work. It’s hard to balance the professional side with the creative but art is a job when there’s mouths to feed. I know that co-ops are synonymous with emerging artists and that’s fair. I also know artists that have chosen to stick with them instead of seeking commercial representation. Often with commercial galleries there are no compete clauses that I don’t have to deal with. At the same time the commercial galleries offer things a co-op can’t sometimes like finding a clientele for you so it’s a decision every artist has to make for themselves based on the quality of their work and what is available to them. I also know many people that don’t have “gallery representation” at all that do very well for themselves showing their work due to a little determination and common sense.
For as long as ive kown you youve had ten things on your plate and your fingers in ten pies. What can e expect to see from you in the next 5 to 10 years?
I wish I could say. School took me a long time and at least for a few months I just want to paint and tattoo. I think developing a stronger Internet presence will help the cause. I love Denver but my goal is at least one show out of state a year. If nothing else just as an excuse to travel a little. Grad school is a possibility and I could see teaching as a serious part of my future but it has to be the right fit. I don’t want to do it just to be in a holding pattern for two more years. I’m also looking into some local residency programs. I have two beautiful daughters, a great 10 year old girl compliments of my fiancé, a female snake, female cat and a gecko were not sure about yet so I think a pet with testicles is a must in my near future before I start to menstruate. Thanks for all the opportunities you have created and all the advice and support over the years amigo! PHS!
Ian Rumley is a painter, teacher and tattoo artist at Bound by Design in Denver CO where he was born and raised. Ian graduated from the Metropolitan state college of Denver with a BFA in 2011.