Ryan Callanan: Life’s a Gamble

N.B. Before I start, this blog has taken me what feels like a year to write. Every single time I go to write it down it seems to morph and change in my head. So, apologies to Ryan and Ink_d for the wait.

Often we are told that something has to have some great big deep meaning with 177 different techniques, and a concept that will contend with the meaning of life and transport your mind to a brand new level simply by being in its presence. Warhol changed all this with the advent of “pop-art”, literally meaning popular art. It became OK to create work that is simple to understand and appeals to people for its simple message.

Ryan Callanan’s work is not the most conceptually deep. It is brash, bright and straightforward. It is the kind of artwork that appeals to the child in you. So offensively and intentionally open with its pure commercialism and the almost gimmicky “k-idiosycrasies” of the work, one can’t really help but think: ‘Fuck it, I kinda like him.’

These k-idiosyncrasies - Yes, it is a word now - manifest themselves in a few motifs. From the acid house smiley face, to variations of star wars recreations including a Buddhist storm trooper and finally Callanan’s hip hop influences. Generally these motifs appear in a variety of forms including cast sculptures, figurines and his old fashioned pub signs with comical and striking words such as “Absofuckinlutely” emblazoned across the wall.

The twist and success of the work comes in the skills and quality of the workmanship found in the artist. He transforms these cult, and intentionally irreverent creations, into something permanent and reverential. The time and processes involved in making each piece means that it does the opposite of Andy Warhol’s pieces, who specialised in creating hundreds of versions of the same image, and then sell, sell, sell. He nurtures these pieces and elevates them to a level that is almost undeserving of the subject matter.

Callanan uses his impressive understanding of 3D materials and previous experience as a sign maker to create his work, before dabbling in graffiti work. He uses both influences in his work. The 2D signs use painted glass and carefully embossed metals or resin set behind glass to refract the light and self-illuminate embossed section. This technique was used by old pubs and bars before electric lights to create a neon effect without electricity. Combining this very impressive technique with rap lyrics, star wars witticisms and made up words seems curious, but considering its history as a technique seems apt especially when looking at the “bling” culture of hip-hop, especially when understanding from whom the lyrics came from.

To be completely subjective, it's not my favourite exhibition. Though one can see the merit in each of the individual ideas within the space, I don’t think it quite sits together as a single exhibition at the moment. However, if everyone had the same taste the world would be a very boring place.

And anyway, any artist that transforms a startrooper into a durable and legitimate art piece, will always have my respect.