Recently opened at SF’s Spoke Art Gallery, was the solo exhibition ‘New Works’ by artist Ron Ulicny, featuring sculptural pieces created by re-inventing ordinary and familiar things into new objects. Recently we were able to speak with the artist about why he’s drawn to certain objects, dreams and the things he likes to have around him in his studio while he’s creating. Take a peek at more of the sculptures and read the interview below.
Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like ? Were you always draw to art / making things ?
I’m from the East Coast originally, spent over a decade in Los Angeles, then transplanted to Portland, OR 4 1/2 years ago, where I currently reside & work. My childhood was mixed bag of this, that, and the other thing. Family & Social Dysfunction, BMX, Hardcore, Hip Hop, Graffiti, Tattoos, Photography, Playing Music, and of course Artwork. Yeah, I have been into art and making things pretty much since that one day at “Parent / Teacher conferences” in First Grade, when sitting outside the classroom, I overheard my Teacher telling my parents how horrible and wretched of a student and little boy I was….and that she felt sorry for them….but, oh yeah “Ronald seems to have an interest and even a talent for art!?” Translation: I was coloring people flesh tones and within the lines, while other kids were coloring people purple and it looked like they did it with their left foot! Ha….and here we are.
Often you use old / reclaimed materials to create something new. Can you describe how you know something is “worth” incorporating into your work? What types of objects inspire you ?
Well…in my humble opinion, a common misnomer about my work is generally people tend to label it as “Found Object” or “Assemblage”. Two terms that I am not very fond of. “Found Object” who came up with that!? I mean I’m not walking gingerly down the street and stumbling upon a trumpet, a skull, roller skates, or a plethora of buttons and reflectors. And as for “Assemblage”…I’m most certainly not putting together model airplanes or a computer desk from Ikea. Ha. With that being said, I do use a lot of older/reclaimed materials but, I also use just as many brand new things as well. I will use WHATEVER it takes and fits with the piece. I can’t really explain what draws me to a particular object in general. Usually a feeling first. I am also drawn to design elements, color, & style. I guess it also depends if I’m searching for something specific at the moment or not for a specific piece. Objects that inspire me are endless. Too many “things” in the world to ever get bored. I like putting familiar things in unfamiliar positions and context.
Describe where you imagine seeing the ideal environment for these objects / works is ?
Honestly….A couple of my ultimate “artistic goals” is to one day, if I’m lucky, have a piece or two displayed in a major modern museum of art & a coffee table type book of my work. Aside from that…I really only make artwork/things so other people can enjoy. Whether that is in their own home, a friends home, a gallery, a school, in a book, on the internet, or a museum that’s all fine by me. Just so I’m not sitting at home in my studio staring it for the rest of my life. Ha. I know it sounds “Artier-Than-Thou” but I use to tour the country in a van, playing music when I was younger and I grew to appreciate getting one or two fans at a time. Nothing beats word of mouth. Also on another note…I would love to have the opportunity to do some permanent outdoor & indoor commission type pieces in the future. I have always felt my work has been limited by me being so poor all my life and not being able to really utilize what I would if I had options.
Can you talk a bit about your studio, what sorts of things you have around you for inspiration ?
Ha. My studio is the bedroom of my one bedroom apartment. The bedroom is the living room. It has 3 walk-in closets filled with all sorts of random esoteric “shit”, a ton of art supplies and a lot of tools. As for my collection, uh…yeah, it’s starting to get out of hand. At least it’s somewhat organized. My name is Ron Ulicny and I am an “Art Hoarder” but, only in my studio and with artwork. The rest of my place is kinda clean, sparse and simple. I have been collecting stuff for years and will pretty much take ANYTHING home I find interesting. A lot of my friends will give me things as well….”Here, I thought you might be able to use this for some sort Art thingy!??!” Leading back to #2 I can have had an object for 10 years and finally get use it or 10 minutes and use it right away. With my type of artwork it’s also great to have options. I can just walk in my closet. It’s like my own private junk store. I find stuff all the time I didn’t know I had. Plus having all that stuff glaring you in the face everyday helps with the motivation. There is something really keen about taking an old “thing” and making it new again and even using it in a way it was never intended to be used!?!
What is the physical process of creating these sculptures like ? They seem to have different “approaches,” unlike say how a painter always uses the same tools when creating a piece.
I like this question. Yeah, I have always felt that “most” artists tend to do the same thing over and over again. Whether it’s paint, sculpt, or take pictures. They find one good idea / piece , latch on to it, and continue to make bastardized watered down versions of that original idea. I mean I’m all for a “collective body of work” but…I feel my use of any ‘ol object or thing tends to liberate me in a way. I’m very specific with everything I do within a piece and actually try not repeat myself with ideas, objects or techniques. I could easy jam 50 different things into a dartboard or make guns out of other instruments but it would make me not respect myself or my work. Ha. That is why I’m such a huge a fan of artists like Duchamp, Man Ray, & Picasso because they did so many different types of art and used any type of technique. One of the other things about my work is I’m a less is more guy and I actually do think of my work sometimes as “Painting With Objects”.
How do you get yourself out of creative ruts when you are in them, or how do you sustain a steady pace if you indeed don’t have ruts ?
Ruts huh!?!?….Hmmmmm!?!?….Well…life is long and hard and it’s good to have a hobby! No but seriously, I do go through lulls and have always just kept pushing and working through them. Being negative and not keep trying doesn’t seem to work well for me. It eventually comes. Plus, I’m not super social and don’t really do a whole lot outside of artwork anymore so ruts are not an option. Persistence works for me.
Do you keep a sketchbook or do these pieces come to you more organically ?
Yes, I do keep a sketchbook. But, pieces also do come organically as well. I would say about half and half. Some sketches never come to fruition and some piece never get finished too. With my work It’s really hard to see what something is going to look like without actually just diving in and seeing for yourself. Sometimes you just have to throw some shit away and start over!
What does this quote you have on your website mean to you and your work? “There is no reason to grant greater importance to the visible than the invisible,nor the other way around.” – Rene Magritte”
Ha. It means two things to me….one….that….Concept, Idea, and Meaning are on equally footing with Aesthetics, Design, and Composition in making a “successful” piece of artwork….and two it means….that those “things” that you do see, think, or feel within a piece of artwork aren’t necessarily the only things going on within said piece. What you feel isn’t “supposed” to be what the artist means, and vice versa.
Can you explain how you see your work as being “viscurrealistic fabrications” ?
Well (Visceral) I guess I have always felt my work just sort of comes out from somewhere inside me and I don’t really have any control over it. Almost like they make themselves with the use of my hands. (Surrealistic) Is the idea of juxtapositon, perception, your conscious & unconscious mind. (Fabrications) There is just so many details and things that go into making the pieces, that they are being fabricated from scratch and with my hands.
Lastly, since dreams were so important to the surrealists, can you perhaps give us a peek into what your dreams are like and how they may inform your work?
Ha. Uh oh. The sad reality and difference there is….I don’t remember any of my dreams….ever. Sigh.