Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan Brewer.
Ryan, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
Sure thing. I was born and raised in rural Michigan, literally between a forest and a cornfield. I was always making things and putting on outrageous performances for my family. Having that unabashed freedom to shamelessly explore and express myself was fundamental to my development as both an artist and human being, and I attribute this mostly to a single mother who didn’t censor but in fact, encouraged me to “do me.” From there, the road got a bit rougher. Let’s just say, rural Michigan wasn’t too keen on diversity at the time and as I grew up and discovered the queer nature of my identity, it was clear that I had to hit the road and find more colorful pastures, so to speak. I bounced around the Midwest until I finally headed east and made it to New York City by my early 20s. This was right around the time of the “Great Recession” and so times were tough. But luckily I had a clear mission: to be a working artist in NYC.
I was accepted into Parsons School of Design; from there, my dreams began to materialize (with insane amounts of hard work), and I really got to cut my teeth on what it would take to do this thing. During my time at Parsons, I learned that I was most drawn to sculptural (or otherwise three-dimensional) art forms and became fully committed to developing this kind of work. I couldn’t see it at the time, but this was laying the groundwork for me to return to performance as a most vital and living form of artistic expression. At the time, performance hadn’t become the ubiquitous pop-culture thing that it is today (let’s be honest, almost everyone is performing something or someone on social media platforms and reality TV outlets these days), and so there was a new wave of performance and interdisciplinary artists emerging out of 90s culture wars but really staking their cultural claim with a technologically savvy millennial ethos, the post-trauma of 9/11, and the woes incited by the financial meltdown. We were all broke and pissed and scared and that made for some really great art, I think.
Long story short, through a bizarre series of events (including living in Mariah Carey’s old crib and doing a TV pilot for a queer home renovation show) I found myself in Los Angeles, and it was a strange dream that I never knew I wanted. But I did know–the night that I landed here in 2013, no less–that the New York chapter of my life and that particular artistic moment had come to an end. I knew that I wanted to continue developing my art practice and I longed for another entry point to an artistic community, but I didn’t know what either of those looked like or where to begin. For me, finding answers to these questions meant applying to grad school. After a bonkers two years of all-work-and-no-play, I am happy to report that I wrapped up my MFA studies at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena this past spring. It was the life-changing and art practice-altering experience that I needed to provide forward momentum to my life’s purpose. I’m looking forward to what’s next!
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I make sculptures, installations, performances, and I also write. The sculptures and installation projects generally begin as research projects and they are formalized through various stages of design (including drawings and models), before finally moving into full-scale production mode. The final products of this process are often finely crafted objects (the scale of which sometimes borders on theatrical set pieces), which I think speaks to the high degree of craftsmanship imbued in the value systems of my Midwestern roots in both folk woodworking and community theatre. This work is both inorganic and organic, as the processes are rarely left to chance but are open to change as needed. Spontaneity might be more present with the performance work, but even here there is often some physical or conceptual structure/parameter that determines how the performance will take shape. This structure can either be an actual sculpture that is interacted with, or a written script that outlines a progression of actions. There is a narrative element to all of this that I think is in line with some productions for cinema and stage, and these forms of visual culture largely inspire my work, on aesthetic and structural levels. And while I find this sort of mirroring or parallel alignment with the products of the entertainment industry necessary, I think it is important to distinguish art from entertainment, which is not to say that one cannot (or should not) be present in the other and vice versa; this is also not to discredit the necessity of the entertainment industry with respect to cultural development! Where one form might provide a needed degree of escapism or sensationalism, the other might be responsible for honest appraisal and taking-to-task, on cultural, social, political, and philosophical levels. I like the idea that a successful artwork could provide both of these outcomes simultaneously. No matter what, I think the role that pleasure plays is vital to any work’s successful transmission of whatever it needs to express. I do think that art should be pleasurable: this is, for me, where its potency for revolution lies.
In terms of a message or inspiration, I am interested in advancing ‘queer’ forms of cultural production, which is to say that I am interested in revealing the false narratives and illusionary natures of “normative” culture, and offering alternative visions of realities and forms of existence in which one might be freer so that something more flexible, accessible, and equitable might be possible to emerge. I want to make work that assists the process of human adaptation to the present moment, providing an opportunity to help steer the course. This might sound vague or idealistic, but I do think that I am trying to work in an intentional, political way that uses aesthetic pleasure to pack its punch. The status quo is unacceptable to me and I am trying to find ways of representing this predicament. I don’t know if art can actually get us out of this, but I do believe that it can reveal things otherwise unseen. “The more you know,” I suppose. Like Oprah says, “When you know better, you do better.” I am trying to learn how to know better.
How can artists connect with other artists?
Well, I will admit that I do enjoy a good bit of solitude myself. Not that solitude is lonely! But I would say the best thing to do to connect with other artists is either to invite them into your world or invite yourself into theirs! By this I mean, I love to do studio visits with other artists and, for me, it is probably the best way to form an intimate connection with another artist by actually traveling to the site of their work’s genesis, or inviting them to yours. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to support other artists by checking out their shows and gigs and whatnot, but I don’t know if a ton of very intimate connection happens there, it’s mostly a place to see and be seen. Again, the one-on-one is where it’s at for me, and I find it very nourishing and maybe one of the most vulnerable and generous things one can do for themselves and their fellow artists. If someone doesn’t know where or how to begin this, they are most welcome to get in touch with me and we can do a studio visit!
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
I’ve exhibited work since 2006 including exhibitions at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre (Brussels, Belgium), Invisible Exports, Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Envoy Enterprises, the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (all NYC), and Last Projects (Los Angeles), among others.
People can see my past and current work by checking out my website (www.ryanbrewerworks.com) or scheduling a studio visit with me, or signing up for my newsletter (and then they will be invited to my next show!) People are also welcome to follow me on IG @ryanbrewerart. But really, I would encourage anyone who is interested in what I am doing to get in touch with me and come over to the studio in West Hollywood. People can support my work by doing any and/or all of the above. If they still want to do more to support my work, I do have Patreon and GoFundMe pages, which I will gladly share with any interested parties!
- Website: www.ryanbrewerworks.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ryanbrewerart/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RyanJBrewer
Portrait by Alan Joseph Marx, 2018