The Constant Artist

Interview by Patricia Lee
Photographs courtesy of Ryan Gander

The art world loves to put artists in boxes. The Abstract Expressionists, the Cubists, the Young British Artists (YBAs). Ryan Gander, however, is having none of that. The Chester-born 39-year-old has a body of work as disparate as Bjork’s. It’s unpredictable, genre-defying and rooted in a novel idea. Liking one Gander work is no guarantee that you’ll like the next. Which is kind of the point.

When I meet Gander in May 2014, he is already wrapping up his 21-day residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. He is bursting with creative energy, on a high from his latest series, Portrait of a blind artist obscured by flowers. It uses newfound print and paper techniques, an innovation made possible only through collaborating with master printers at the workshop here. “They’re not really print makers, they’re Jedis,” he jokes. “It’s incredible how quickly they work.”

ryan gander artist

Work-in-progress at Singapore Tyler Print Institute.

Most artists invited to be residents, including Gander’s former teacher and Turner Prize winner Richard Deacon, have been similarly awed. Yet unlike the others, Gander took his explorations beyond the medium. “All the works that I’m making here are prints about prints. It’s like I’m making art that talks about the very history of print, from its capabilities to its restrictions.”

Gander’s gift is seeing all the angles in one fell swoop. From the absurd to the subtle, he sees the possibilities in the everyday and is able to craft that into a visual language. His works are funny, quirky and probing. Take his screen prints inspired by police cars as an example. Bright, abstract and geometric, the titles run from As serious as a heart attack to I’d like this to work out for me. The bigger picture, however, is a narrative of urban violence. “You can’t see that they are police cars. It is just a motif of the colours with etchings of scratches on the top.” Gander has been collecting photographs of police cars with scratches for years. “They are all in the same place—over the door and over the bonnet where they search people.”

ryan gander the constant artist

Bad Language (The iconography and abstraction of retreat explored), 2015.

He sees his pieces as receipts of ideas. What he cares about is the legacy of the storytelling more than the physical object. In an hour-long chat, he revealed the charm and deadpan wit that wins over any audience, whether he’s sharing his vision with them in conversation, or through his works.

Let’s start with how you got into art in the first place.

I’m from a pretty middle class British family. Which is like 99 percent of Britain, or at least it feels like it is. I grew up in Chester in the North West between Liverpool and Manchester. It’s like the nice part of the North and kind of suburban. Very twee and ordinary, and people are really kind. It’s a great sort of upbringing but actually, it’s incredibly boring. There was a friend at my school whose mum was a bit mad. She was an artist and worked in a café. I used to go around to his place and just be amazed at how different the living room was to our place. It was all puppets and flowers and a big mess.

What kind of artist was she?

Just Marc Chagall-esque. Drawings of cows flying through the sky and stuff. She was just an arty type of figure and I had never met one before. It made me realise that I didn’t have to do all those things that I had been led to believe—which was finish school, go to university, meet a girl, get married, have kids, do a job for 40 years and die. And I thought, no way. I want to do something else. The more I learnt about art, the more I thought, this is definitely the job for me. You can wake up every day and decide what to do.

Read more in The U Press N˚1 (London edition).