Recently artist Ryan Garvey was contacted by Boston-based theater troupe Orfeo Group to collaborate on a funky, Shakespearean set for their upcoming play, The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged). So I caught up with the other half of the function key to talk about the project and his artistic endeavors.
TFK: Describe your initial reaction when learning about the Orfeo Group assignment. How did they find out about you?
RG: Well I was surprised to say the least. I’m not sure how exactly they found me, but they contacted me through email. The wonders of Google, I guess.
TFK: And what did they tell you about the project? What were they looking for aesthetically?
RG: There wasn’t much specific direction, just that it was a Shakespeare farce/comedy. They wanted something funky, eye-candy with a “graffiti” look. I came up with a few images that I thought would work, the skull, the Ham-Speare character, coats of arms, etc., and I created the background organically, with “eye candy” in mind.
TFK: So the “graffiti” aspect probably got your gears turning. Because I’m your partner, I know about your interest in street art, but could you tell the readers some more about your passion?
RG: Um, let’s see . . . I first noticed graffiti around age 12, but never really knew what was going on until age 14, when I met some writers in my city. I was the perfect age to fall in love with graffiti. I wrote throughout high school, mostly tagging and some walls and freights when I was 16-17. When I was 17 I moved to Boston, and that was where my participation really took off. I painted pretty frequently and got a lot more serious about my letter structure but more importantly about learning graffiti’s history.
My peak was probably in 2003, when I was out most nights of the week. Shortly after that I cooled off almost completely — things got too intense. But I’ve always paid a lot of attention to graffiti, even when I wasn’t painting. In fact, when I stopped writing, I began to focus and appreciate the conceptual aspects of the culture a lot more.
The thing that excites me about graffiti has gone from its aesthetic to its process and execution. I began to read everything I could about the early days, 1971-75, Philly, the Bronx. The originators of the culture. The most exciting thing to me is that these were kids, young teens, who created this whole world, this culture. They created rules and memes and standards that still hold up almost 40 years later. And these teens did this with no financial motivation and no tangible reward. I find that very inspiring, and it’s that earnest, genuine energy that keeps me passionate about graffiti.
TFK: Can you tell me a little bit about your process? How you go from planning to execution?
RG: The planning was just doing some sketching of the recognizable objects in the scene. Because the paint was provided, I wasn’t even sure what colors I’d be using! I often work without much of a literal blueprint and more on a “feeling” that I want the work to have. I often let one mark or action dictate the next, and I especially love “accidents” because they can provide the opportunity to really surprise yourself in a great way.
The idea behind the background is a concept that I carry through a lot of my work: It’s the idea that constant human activity and human interactions are happening all around us at all times, whether we’re aware or not, and I find it very comforting. It’s a feeling I’ve adopted from living in the city for so long. So that’s why my background, which is a landscape, has a smashed together, chaotic, quilt type of feel. The patterns represent this “activity” I’m talking about.
TFK: Your piece is impressive. I can’t believe it’s all done with spray paint! Did you use stencils, or was it painted entirely by hand? Did you eyeball it?
RG: To answer your question about stencils: This piece was done all “free hand.” I don’t usually set rules for myself with art making, but I get a real satisfaction out of spray painting all free hand, so I avoid stencils and guides.
TFK: So what’s next up for you? Do you have any other projects lined up?
RG: Well, I’m always trying to make new work, drawing and on the computer. I just agreed to do a mural for the Somerville Mental Health organization, and I’m working on something for a design contest.
Just in case you happen to be in need of mural services, you can always contact Ryan at email@example.com.