Ryan Callanan a.k.a. RYCA has been a key player on the urban art scene for some time now. Known for his ‘Reservoir Troopers’ prints and his acid smiley faces, his upcoming show ‘Highs and Lows’ at the London West Bank gallery is set to separate the Ryan from the RYCA. Here he gives Beautiful Crime his lowdown on urban and street art’s pros and cons, the Jedi religion which forms influence in his work and establishing his own new aesthetic.
1) What’s your show ‘Highs and Lows’ about and where did the idea for the title come from?
The idea was initially a comment on my journey as an artist since my breakthrough in 2007 with Scrawl Collective. The show is a kind of retrospective, the work as RYCA in the show is mainly reworkings of old images and ideas. The new work as Ryan is all about sunken relief and is literally made from ‘high and low’ surfaces. basically a terrible pun.
2) Where do you feel you fit in to the street art scene and how did it all start?
I don’t really consider myself a street artist – I think what street art did (for me) was speak directly to me, I remember seeing Banksy’s street stuff in London back in 2000 and collating ‘propaganda’ images from the net for a college project and discovering ‘Obey’ and Shepard Fairey’s work – all of this got me interested in street art. I took a job at a sign company in 2002 and learnt a lot of new processes, one key skill that was to change my life was screen printing.
Over the next few years I saw many new artists appearing, Eelus’s art was my first print purchase – ‘Chewbarber’ and then of course, there’s Star Wars; these got me thinking. I had a few ideas in sketch books, and I saw what I refer to as the ‘street art formula’, this seemed obvious and easy – you add two ‘things’ together to get a new image. There where no rules or people saying I couldn’t offer my own take on things and so my ideas started pouring out.
3) Ben Eine calls you a ‘chemist-like’ expert with materials and techniques – is your studio doubling up as an apothecary and how experimental are you with new ideas / techniques / materials?
That is funny! I studied 3D Design and Modelmaking, I learnt alot about spray painting, surface finish, casting, moulding and developed an eye for detail. From day one in college (1998) to now, I have discovered new methods and processes every day. Technology is important and keeping up with the latest developments is essential.
4) Do you have any trademark signs or signature icons and from where did they come?
I guess my most iconic work is ‘Reservoir Troopers’ , I have bought a bootleg t-shirt from ebay of that one which is quite flattering. There is also the ‘Acid head’ (smiley) in classic black and gold (2008), a series which has evolved and developed in to a whole new direction for me. I also hope to really establish the aesthetic of what I call ‘old fashioned signage’ as an art form and to make it mine. Nothing is truly original but I don’t know of anyone else doing this kind of work.
5) We have seen stormtroopers on crosses! We love them, tell us more about them and the theory behind them?
The ‘Long-suffering Trooper’ (official title), is now in its second incarnation, the first being a remodelled 3 3/34″ figure on a blister card (like an old star wars toy) this was called ‘Start Wars’ as religion is a major starting point of most conflicts.
The stormtrooper is an unknown identity, he could be anyone. I reworked it again because of an article I read about census forms across the world being filled in by people stating their religion as Jedi. I decided to make this the symbol of this religion.
I think at last count in the UK there where over 350,000 ‘Jedi’ – more than Judaism!
6) What’s on your CV?
I have no idea, I haven’t made a CV in over ten years – the funniest one is a qualification in safe scaffolding tower construction!
7) What are your biggest hates and loves of the street / urban art scene?
Bad images made in to badly cut stencils; drips do my head in a bit – its the biggest cliche in urban art and yes I have fallen victim to it!; gallery snobbery, elitism; ‘real’ graffiti writers or ‘haters’ on the scene or artists that are also known as ‘art fags’ – it’s such a juvenile term.
Meeting like minded people; seeing your work being enjoyed; meeting people who don’t just buy my work, but are moved by it; learning how to solve the next problem; helping other artists see their ideas realised.
Details of the ‘Highs and Lows’ show at London West Bank gallery can be found on his RYCA and Ryan Callanan Facebook pages.
The show runs 2nd – 14th November 2012.