This month’s Visual Arts feature profiles Ryan Berkley, who discusses his artistic and business partnership with his wife Lucy, his self-taught drawing style and how he deals with copycats.
ELEVEN: How is your personality portrayed in your work?
Lindsay Anne Watson: I think my work is really good at revealing the dreamy part of my personality, the part that is always thinking about deserts and pink skies and overcoming exhaustion. I think it’s apparent in my work that I am a very emotional and honest person who sleeps a lot. It doesn’t reveal my entire personality though. There are parts of me very evident in real life that don’t make it into my work as much, like my tendencies toward grumpiness and inserting talk of frogs and lizards into unrelated everyday conversations.
11: Where do your ideas for your pieces originate? From where do you pull inspiration?
LW: A lot of my writing is done in my sleep, or on the edges of sleep. If a phrase is going to be used, it’ll come back to me several times before I write it down and decide to use it. A lot of these things slip away from me and I can feel their absence years later. And that feeling of loss is also something that inspires me, to write and to feel things and to take note of everything that matters to me. A lot of it also comes straight from the mouths and minds of the kids I teach, who are hilarious and brilliant.
11: Are the characters in your pieces based on people in your life?
LW: They’re almost always a representation of my inner self split into two pieces. If anyone makes it into my work, they’re obscured quite a bit because I don’t draw anyone as they look, and all the writing is edited so much that it all comes from one voice. I definitely work in quotes from the people around me though.
11: I’ve noticed some of your characters reoccur throughout different pieces. Do they have unique identities or personalities, or is that merely coincidence?
LW: When I first started publishing my comics, the characters did have more defined identities. At that time, I feel like my books had straightforward themes that required the characters to be more fully formed. Every character represented something. These days it’s more like a roving inner monologue where each line of writing falls into the next and that freefalling, exploratory kind of writing is it’s own nebulous, intangible character. The faces and bodies that I put on the page are maybe there to represent how those images and emotions feel to a human, how they transform me into something different than the human I am in the everyday sense.
11: There is a vulnerability to your pieces that is identifiable regardless of age, gender, race or orientation. Have there been any memorable interactions with people who have purchased or admired your pieces?
LW: YES! Probably a dozen people have told me my work made them cry, which I love. I encourage everyone to cry often and I’m so grateful when my work inspires that kind of response. In one of my older books, I Don’t Need Eyes, the characters are a vague duo of either lovers, twins, or platonic life partners, depending on who is reading it and what they need. I never expressed publicly that the characters were meant to be read so openly in that way, but I got responses from lovers, twins, siblings and platonic friends all saying that the book represented their relationship, and that was greatly fulfilling for me. An old coworker who I regard as being pretty shy and reserved bought my book and then the next day, very quietly but confidently told me that it made him feel things he had forgotten he was able to feel. The general theme of the responses that are most memorable for me is that these people have found expressions of feelings they were hoping to feel. It makes me really proud because I think a lot of people have issues with vulnerability, whether they don’t know how to let themselves be, or they know how to be but are too scared to. Vulnerability is really easy for me, and I love to be someone who can help others open themselves up to the beauty and pain and brightness of the world.
11: You portfolio displays your ability as a multi-medium artist. What and where was your training, or are you self-taught?
LW: I started taking my art education seriously when I started high school. I went to art school summer programs, and then went to art school immediately after graduating. I went to Academy of Art University in SF and got a BFA in illustration. But while I was there I studied comics, animation, printmaking, book arts and sculpture. So my education has really given me a foundation to do whatever I want and teach myself anything new that I might not know yet.
11: What is your favorite part about collaborations and which has been your favorite?
LW: Collaborations are fun because I think the people involved always bring out the best qualities in each other. I have an ongoing collaboration with my friend Ross Jackson in which we tell the story of a ridiculous little guy named Jebby and it makes us laugh so much, even years later. Ross definitely makes space for me to be funny and make stupid jokes, where the space I’ve made for my solo work is much more serious and introspective, and I’m really grateful for his humor. Cold Cube Press published my last comic, and I’ve done work for their anthologies and I consider this a really important collaboration because I think they have amazing taste and it’s an honor to be represented by them. They work really hard to make really incredible books, and I’m really proud to know them, so the work I make for them tends to be much better than anything I would self-publish. I collaborate with people I admire, so it’s always really exciting to put these things out into the world, and to let my work reach farther than it would if it were made by only me.
11: Who is your favorite author or literary artist and how have their pieces inspired the written aspect of your artwork?
LW: I’m really obsessed with Joy Williams, a mysterious author who drives back and forth between Tucson and the Florida Keys in like, a car full of german shepherds. And she wears sunglasses to all of her events. Her stories are very much like fever dreams, but also very mundane, and I can’t get enough of that. Her work stays vividly in my memory for a long time, because the settings and characters are so strange but not in an off putting way. And her words are gorgeous. A visual artist/writer who I’ve admired and adored for a really long time is Nathaniel Russell. He really got me started on the path of image and text, and some of his stuff is so funny and some of it is so tender, and in the past year he’s put this humor and tenderness together to write what most of us are feeling about the state of our terrible world. He’s another one who floats between the joke world, the dream world and the real world, and what a great talent that is.
11: Do you currently have any of your work on display? Where can we find some of your latest pieces?
LW: At this very moment I have a print up at No End gallery in South Africa, but it’s coming down soon. Aside from that, I think the best place to see my art would be at Fruit Salad Club here in Portland. They have some of my work in their personal collection but you can see it if you visit their beautiful little shop. » – Laurel Bonfiglio
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