GT caught up with Ryan Riddington, a young charismatic artist whose latest exhibition, showcasing at Fred [London] Gallery, demonstrates the complex relationship of sculpture and photography. Using himself as a ‘prop’ in most of his work, Ryan tells us about his hatred of chesterfield furniture and his passion for his music spilling over in his artwork.
Why the title High, Low & In-between?
It comes from country/rock singer Townes Van Zandt’s song of the same name. I originally discovered him from my boyfriend’s music collection. It wasn’t that specific track but more the idea that it represents different states that can be applied to do with class, spirituality, sexuality and different types of positions which people can interpret however they want.
Your work has been described as taking the ‘literal’ sense, is that a fair analysis?
I mean it tends to happen but I wouldn’t say it’s literal. People might see it like that or by me describing how it looks, it may come across like that too but I would say I’m more conscious of time—meaning I choose to work in a particular material, but most of the time I don’t know what exactly is going to happen as the work stems from me trying things out and with the chesterfields piece, had I not got stuck in and properly investigated it then that image wouldn’t of happened. You can say there’s a certain element of my work being ‘literal’ but if it were too much like a project that had a beginning, middle and end; I would shy away from that.
Picking up on your passion for music, what genres influence you to crossover into your work?
Well hip-hop in particular and I do like some R&B—the proper R&B stuff though like old school, not David Guetta or Flo Rida, definitely not that version of it! But more so I think hip-hop I think is a massive influence but particularly people who have made their slant to it. When I first discovered Tricky I was blown away with his variety of music but I was confused by him ‘nicking’ Massive Attack lyrics or ‘borrowing’ their music. But then I realised they were his own lyrics that he was using from his own tracks, so it’s about those kinds of re-sampling and re-using that I think follows through to my work.
Another big influence was the artwork of the album ‘Protection’ by Massive Attack, (not just musical aspects connected to Tricky) but a photograph of the collage in the artwork.
Is there anyone or anything that has inspired this set of work for this exhibition?
Masses of things, people and situations and if I’m honest music is more overall conceptually the thing that inspires me the most. If I had to chose it would be artists like Naum Gabo and Francis Bacon, although I could list many more, but those two have been influential to me.
Talk us through key pieces featured in the exhibition
‘Walk’- Where was this taken?
In Crete, I took a residency there. There was a project that I was invited to, the title was ‘Utopia and Nature’ and there was a set text that we were meant to read, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, which I just didn’t feel like reading because I don’t tend to respond or make work as well when I’m restrained and told what to do. So I was struggling with what I would do with it. Initially all I could think of was doing something about cruising and that seemed a tad obvious or cliché.
Because my work is related to music, specifically sampling and re-contextualising stuff, the whole time I was doing this piece I had the song Cruisin’ by D’Angelo in my head so the central picture is me ‘pretending’ to cruise—although it’s something that I’ve never done, it was a case of when I got that image it initially had the text of ‘Cruising’ was up here but then I realised it was too obvious and constraining the work, rather than making it freer.
Once I had the image, it was a case of finding somewhere to place it. First of all I put it on these public toilets but they were manky and it was white tiles, in a way it was like a gallery, a very degraded one, but then once I realised it would be better off in an actual environment where it was taken place.
I don’t know if it’s a definitive split but gay people tend to think it’s about cruising and then straight people tend to think it’s about a missing person. So, it’s obviously not completely cut and dry as there are loads of different things going on. There are some more general aspects like man’s relationship with nature and the landscape. Although I was initially against the idea, I was pleased how it turned out and all the things I had to consider to make it look good.
‘Mantle’ (Part of a 3-set series)
If you notice I’m in a lot of the work. I guess there’s an element to it being directly about me but then there’s other elements because I’m a human being, dealing with general experiences, more than the idea that I’m just using myself as a ‘prop’ in my work.
With these ones it was something [the red outfit] that I found in the lake district (another residency) and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to use it because it immediately reminded me, the colour and they way that it was cut, of horror films. In particular Don’t Look Now, with the emotional family dynamic that goes with it.
I have a love/hate relationship with chesterfield furniture and I’ve had ideas when I lived in Leeds, to do close-ups of the features of the chesterfield furniture.
The hate comes from different aspects: The furniture itself and the fact that I didn’t have any choice of having these things in my domestic environment because I was the lodger living with these friends.
Also, it’s what they seem to represent, this idea of social mobility and trying to make yourself look better than you are, or the idea of gentlemen’s club, which is another thing again as a ‘male only space’ or heterosexual.
I was walking to my studio a chesterfield chair was being lowered into a skip and I said to this guy ‘please let me have it, I really need it’ and then I wheeled it up the road.
It took me 3 months until I felt brave enough to do something with it. It felt so pregnant with possibilities and symbolism and I didn’t want to conceptualise and ruin it.
Talk us through the Comfort Drawings I & II
They portray my relationship with drawings as being comprised by our education. So with this it was making marks with the sake of making them. This was the try-out of something more substantial. As I built it up, it developed into this textile landscape. The black, white, red comes from being given a Manchester United scarf by my Uncle and when I was about 7-8 I had a football phase when I was buying the shirts and I went to the Old Trafford. It wasn’t until I moved back to Leeds, later on, that I had been using Football as a crutch, as a signifier of belonging, and for who you are and what you represent. The older I got the more I felt like an imposter, or let it go and realised what it meant to other people. I realised I didn’t have that or as rooted in football as other people were.
Comforting drawing II was a similar process to number one but different materials, but I don’t remember if I had tartan in mind to begin with.
The yellow as a theme if you like, or a motif, is because I’ve done quite a lot of work with black, white and red but yellow was something I’d been looking to bring in for quite a long time, and I think that this is the first ever finished piece with the four together.
What is your favourite piece in the exhibition?
‘Home’ is a key piece. It’s an older piece, as it’s a silhouette of a sculpture that was being lit in the studio. It’s a shadow of the piece and it’s rather cryptic. People can’t tell what it’s made of because it’s blurry and shifting, which gives that quality of it not being so ‘literal’. It’s trying to get people to figure out what it is, rather than telling people what it is. It was this that led me into my complicated relationship between sculpture and photography. Now, I’m in this issue, since this, trying to reconcile this thing. I still say my work is sculpture but for the moment the end result seems to be 2-dimensial in photography.
Check out the rest of Ryan’s exhibition at Fred [London] Gallery until 10 November
Words: Balraj Bains
Images: Fred [London] Ltd.