Melting Culture: Ryan Riss Freaks Out!

By Christian J Petersen

Ryan Riss‘ pen is a key that opens a door to a very strange land. A melting, throbbing, vibrating place, both welcoming and horrifying. Good vibrations mutate into the darkest matter and the cosmic wisdom of the ancients explodes from the page in a visceral, psychedelic frenzy. A dark, shamanistic freakshow that will expand your mind then eat your brain. Ryan’s work puts sophisticated abstract expressionism into a pop art meat grinder with underground comics, skate punk graphics and new age symbolism. Mystical wisdom and gorehound fantasy are his ying and yang. Step through the portal and let Ryan guide you through his magical and feverish brain.

Your work seems to have a direct lineage from the underground comic artists of the sixties and seventies. Is that something you are into?  Who do you rate highest?
Ryan Riss: This is totally true. When I started out drawing part of it was essentially because of the inspiration that I found in underground comix of the ’60s, ’70s, and even ’80s. There really is so much — but to pick one person, I really enjoy early Robert Williams style. His early drawings are so radical with the detail and precision. But there really are so many others as well and it all is so inspiring, some real rebel folks drawing with a lot of passion. I highly suggest picking up an anthology type book on the matter and you’ll be amazed.

Have you ever considered creating a full comic or animation?
Yeah, for a time I considered it, a comic, but I really just gravitate to stand alone pieces. Really intricate individual drawings. I really like old animations as well — old black and white stuff. If I could do stuff like that I would consider animations… but there’s only so much time. At this point I see myself gravitating away from those styles but still incorporating their essence.

What did you like to draw as a child?
People doing silly things like throwing up. Cows. I really liked to draw faces — like, just cartoony faces — and that’s something I still like to do.

Since I first saw your art, it has developed from predominantly psychedelic characters to more minimal abstract compositions. Is that a conscious change? Are you trying to distill it down to the essence?
I think that this is just a natural progression for me. I’ve always enjoyed design and layout and I think I’m just distilling these things down into their most simple forms. To me they are becoming more engaging and thought provoking although they are becoming simpler. I think the message is becoming clearer and I like that. I still have to incorporate the details and psychedelia that inspire me as well but it’s definitely growing.

From seeing your lysergic drawings, people might make presumptions about your state of mind. What’s the reality?
I feel like the mess that I’m making and the grip I have on reality is tenable at best. I just want people to enjoy the drawings that get into that stuff. I could care less what they think about me  — but I am a mess.

Does it bother you that some people might think your work is all about taking drugs?

Is there an OCD element to your work?
Yes, drawing for me in and of itself is an OCD endeavor. I give into it as much as I can and want to draw for hours and hours on end  — until my hand gives out on me. It just feels completely exhilarating to draw repetitiously for hours no matter what it is.

Why do you work only in black and white? Your work would appear to lend itself to mad explosions of color.
I like the simplicity of the black and white. For some reason no matter how complicated and overwhelming things get the black and white contrast seems to bring it back down to a more deliverable realm. I feel like it’s the stripped down versions of things. It’s like the drawing is reduced to it’s pure essence. That’s a bit corny but it speaks to me much more, not that I don’t like color in art. For me it’s about the black and white and will be, even if I want to get a texture or grey tone I’d prefer to just use black to achieve this. Maybe that’s OCD too.

What are your favorite horror movies?
Man, The Fog is awesome — anything John Carpenter really is awesome. All the old zombie movies — Dawn of the Dead is so good on so many levels. All the ’70s and ’80s horror movies from The Gate to Suspiria. I know that The Burbs is technically not a horror movie but that’s awesome, a good horrorish plot with the right amount of humor and spaghetti western references. So bitchin’.

oracle 3

Are you tired of the current endless Zombie trend? What do you think will replace it ? (I heard Ninjas!)
I like zombies but don’t get to take part in all the zombie craze biz ’cause I feel a little out of touch and busy or for some reason so it’s all good with me. Ninjas would be good — maybe turtles that turn into ninjas. What about Bill and Ted’s
Excellent Adventure
? Or Wayne’s World? Maybe it’s an ultimate return of the goofy comedy duo.

Have you got any pets?
Yes. A lovely lady dog Ginger and a rambunctious gal of a cat Izzy.

From your blog it seems you spend a lot of time in nature. What influence does that have your art?
I think that nature provides a lot of inspiration from it’s patterns and forms and movement. I love to go on walks and observe and process the land and look at all the neat little ideas waiting to be had. I’ve been living in a camper with my wife and two precious animals for about three months now so that has and will continue to be an outstanding influence on my state of mind.

Do you see your work as countercultural? Is there anything political about it?
I’d like to say so. I think the more recent work I’ve been doing is more subdued in the directness of it’s agenda but I think there is always a trend in the drawings I do to “buck the trend” and go against the Man. FTW. It’s all that sort of meandering rebel instinct — no more 9 to 5, anti suburban, screw the tradition, social justice, fight the power, push the boundaries of what’s possible. Live free… general counter culture stuff.

Do ideas sometimes come to you in your dreams (or nightmares) ?
Sort of. I certainly sort of rein in all the imagery around me and a good deal of it comes from something more like daydreaming. I sort of zone out a lot and slowly put together what’s going on in an idea for a piece from there. In general I can’t really remember my dreams except I randomly remember nightmares that I wake up from in a tizzy. Some of that stuff creeps into my work. Paranoia.

I think your work is simultaneously hippie and punk rock. Are you a punk rock hippie?
So cool. Yes, thank you.

Goodbye To This Place

I read that you see your work as ‘making a map.’ Where does the map lead?
I’m most certain the map will lead me into the future. I just want to keep traveling and growing and “exploring” new ideas in my work — keep pushing myself. It’s all about taking a trip and I love maps and cartography. I like to feel like I’m sort of a cartographer plotting all the little geographical mind info as I work across a piece… Sort of moving to the north and south, east and west, plotting different geographies, little dots feel like illustrating the sands of a desert, making little wiggles that add up to forests, all these things add up to the world I get to create, most times the facial cartography of characters. I just love the amount of info that’s provided by maps and how they are a representation of the potential options that you have in traveling the land. I feel like there can be some of that in my drawings some times — a little wishful and heavy-handed… but oh well.

Are you a spiritual person?
Yes, a spiritual warrior for a tropical future: permanent vacations.

  • tech-no-mad

    Ei Christian, good person to profile, Ryan’s work & ethos are RIGHT ON!