Artist of the Week: Ryan Feeney

Ryan Feeney is an artist and curator that lives and works in Northampton, MA.  He received his BFA in photography from the University of Dayton in Ohio and his MFA in studio arts from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  Ryan is the co-founder and co-director a web-based curatorial project called SoftSpot.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I live in a small town in western Massachusetts, where I spend my time working, making art, and curating groups of works and images for SoftSpot, which is an internet based curatorial project that I do with the beautiful and talented Kimberly Hennessy.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger what would you say?  I am really interested in the connection between the giant image culture that I live in and the effect that that image culture has on the way in which I perceive the world.  My work is an exploration of that complicated relationship… I always like to use the record cover for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as an example…  I was familiar with that record long before I knew anything about optical physics – so when I did learn the physics of how a prism breaks light down a rainbow, I understood that through the lens of Pink Floyd.  So from now on there will always be some connection for me between a prism and classic rock.

In my work, I search out moments like this, when it becomes evident that elements from the vernacular or cultural spheres complicate my perception and understanding of the natural and social worlds.

How did your interest in art begin?  I think for me it all began with a fascination with logos when I was younger.  I remember focusing on the icons attached to clothing brands and skateboard companies and the bands that I listened to and thinking about how cool it was that the smallest graphic elements were able to hold so much information.  When I was a kid, I would trace and re-draw nike ‘swooshes’ and the Wu-Tang Clan ‘w’ all the time.  On some level, that interest in iconography is still always present in the work that I make today.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? Lately I have been thinking a lot about the idea of ‘failure.’  Back when I was in art school I would always hear people say that you can get more out of your failures than you can out of your successes… that idea has always made a lot of sense to me.  A lot of the work that I have made recently has been about the disconnect between the ‘real’ and the ‘ideal’ and my own inability to reach ‘perfection.’ I have also been thinking a lot about the difference between photographic space and actual space and how easy the illusion of space happens when we look at flat images.

How has your work developed within the past year? For most of last year I was dealing with the trauma of not being in school any more.  I spent a lot of time re-learning how to develop a practice of making art, so there have been a lot of changes this past year, in both the work being made and the methods of making.

I come from a photography background, so I think because of that I have always felt the need to work in series, as opposed to making individual works.  This year I have focused on freeing myself up to make singular pieces that exist outside of a larger body of work.  This new freedom leaves a lot more room for playing around with imagery and materials, it sort of welcomes surprises to pop up in the work.

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work? I want people to walk away from seeing my work with feeling like they just heard a funny joke, but they aren’t really sure exactly what the punch line was. I think that images are really complicated and interesting things, and it is my goal as an artist to create a dialog around all of the aspects that I find to be so interesting and complicated. I think that it’s important that a viewer will pick up on that dialog that is taking place. In my opinion, when artists take themselves too seriously some of the magic disappears from the work.  I always try to approach my work with some subtle and entertaining and low stakes sense of humor to avoid falling into that trap of taking it too serious, and I want people to look at my work and get a sense of that philosophy.

What artists are you interested in right now? Lately I have been looking at people like Matt Keegan, Amanda Ross-Ho, Justin Kemp, Marlo Pascual.  But if I had to make a list of artists that have continually and consistently influenced my work I would say that Robert Irwin, Erwin Wurm, and Spencer Finch are some of my all time favorites.

Have you seen any recent exhibitions that stuck out to you? I recently saw Tom Friedman at Luhring Augustine.  That was a really great show.  I think Friedman has a great sense of humor and this was the first time I got to see a solo show of his work.  The cleverness and playfulness of his practice really kind of slaps you in the face as you walk into the gallery, so I think that show will stand out in my mind for a while.  A few years ago I was Olafur Eliasson’s “Take Your Time’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago… that will always be on my list of the most exciting shows that I have been to.

If you had one wish what would it be? I am terrible at making decisions.  If I had one wish, it would be to have the ability to be in multiple places at once; that way I would never have to stick with one thing and I could explore simultainious outcomes.

Favorite music? Last four albums that I listened to: Bonnie Prince Billy – Ease on Down the Road; Andrew Jackson Jihad – Knife Man; Langhorne Slim – Be Set Free; Lee Hazelwood – A House Safe From Tigers