Blurring the Lines With Ryan Boserio
We sat down with artist Ryan Boserio to learn about his upcoming exhibition, Observance.
Just over three years ago, England-born and Perth-raised artist Ryan Boserio made the move to Melbourne. His beginnings in graffiti, and background in graphic design and illustration, have taken his career in multiple directions, working across a range of creative media. Boserio's past work has encompassed a stunning body of paintings, both digital and traditional, with a distinctive style and futuristic, hyperreal subject matter. His art also formerly carried the unifying motif of planes, using the symbol of plane spotting as a central tie between interdisciplinary works. He's currently retired the brand for a new show titled Observance, exploring the ins and outs of culture and mythology, and the blurring of lines between fantasy and reality. We sat down with him over the summer to find out all about it.
Posted by Ryan Boserio on Tuesday, 5 January 2016
It’s been a while since you’ve been back! How do you think Perth has changed - the arts scene in particular?
I definitely think that the population has grown, it’s more diverse, what else can I say definitively? The artwork has always been really, really good in Perth, it’s really well documented. It’s a small city, and it’s really easy for people who are good to get a degree of success as a result. I’ve always liked that dynamic about Perth, and I’m really glad to see that that tradition is still continuing, even though it has experienced some growth. So I really like that about it, and beyond that, I’m not sure, because I haven’t really been watching what’s been going on beyond those generalities. But yeah, there’s definitely lots of great stuff coming out of Perth, and I hope that it still keeps going. Because I know that the boom is over, there’s not as much money flowing in - or arts funding and all that sort of thing, which would traditionally help people get that stuff going - so hopefully it’ll just keep going independent of those economic constraints.
Tell us about your own start as an artist - you started out in graffiti?
Totally did, I totally did. That was a long time ago though, now. It’s weird, every year that passes, I feel less and less connected to what is going on with the graff scene, and that’s just because it doesn’t really suit my lifestyle much anymore, but I still love hanging out with those guys - that’s always a riot. I love hanging out with those drongos, big shout out to all you guys!
What drew you to it in the beginning?
I was a rebellious piece of shit that nobody wanted to hang out with, and it was like, "how am I going to force my artwork onto other people, so that they have to see my garbage?" And I was like "yeah, fuck yeah, this is a great vehicle for it". Plus, yeah, I get to feel cool, you know, because I’m doing something quasi-illegal, and I get to hang out with other dirtbags. It’s great for a teenage kid, graff is that perfect blend of being creative and being rebellious at the same time, and that’s super important, you know, not many cultures have that.
That's a great quote.
Pull it right there, all caps!
How did you find the transition into studio and gallery work after that?
It was a legitimate channel when I started doing graff, there was an easy lineage from doing heaps of graffiti and then just deciding "I don’t know if I’m into it anymore", and then you go and do the street art thing, and then you transition into the gallery system. It was super natural, not supernatural but natural; it was very natural, because all of those steps seemed to be set up and laid out for me, and heaps of people had done it before. It was an easy blueprint to follow, and that had been set up for me, by people who came before me.
I’m not sure if that lineage still exists - it almost feels like that route through to the fine art system is kind of well-trodden now and everyone’s kind of weary of it. Maybe that’s an inaccurate assessment of the situation, but in the early 2000s, that seemed like a very legitimate way to get into the art game in Perth at the time, and it was super easy. I don’t know what it’s like now.
We were lucky enough to see a preview of your latest show - tell us about the masks, there’s a lot going on there.
They deal with a bunch of different issues - identity and anonymity, and obviously I’m thinking a lot about tribes… and not necessarily in the sense that you would mention it in its classical way, more so in the way that you would refer to ‘tribes’ in the appliance of marketing, you know what I mean? People often refer to loose social groups that have common interests and common friends as ‘tribes’, and why shouldn’t I take this concept literally? That’s fun, let’s do that. Plus I get to play with 3D printing, which is super fun. All of those masks are all 3D printed, so that’s, you know, cool and edgy and new technology-esque. They’re actually really durable as well, so it totally beats out, say, wood or clay or any of those other mediums that you would use to make sculptural works like that.
Do you think the use of 3D printing is getting bigger in art?
Yeah, definitely, and I hope to see it get bigger in the future. There’s heaps of tutorials, the barriers to entry are quite low, and the cost is going down, so I hope that 3D printing technology gets used more in fine art. Not before I do it, because I want to be the first to do everything in the world, ever.
Are many people doing it in Melbourne?
I haven’t seen many, I haven’t seen many. There might be some in the contemporary arts scene, but not that I’m following currently in Melbourne. I would love to meet some more, it’d be great, but for the moment it seems like a real internet-specific medium - it draws in a lot of people that are interested in technology, and doesn’t lend itself to people who are out in those contemporary spaces. They’re more in online spaces as opposed to the physical, which sucks because the whole point of 3D printing, I thought, was supposed to be bringing those two kinds of worlds together. If you’re into it, get at me.
Another thing we noticed about the show was a definitive colour scheme - is there a significance to it?
Not a huge significance, that’s something that I think comes from practicing a lot of graphic work, having an interest in contemporary illustration, rather than in the sense that, say, abstract work places an importance on certain colours. It’s more like style over content for that… don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell anyone that I just like pretty things, sometimes.
Sci-fi undertones have had a huge presence throughout your work, too?
I love sci-fi. Sci-fi’s great, you know, sci-fi to me represents this contemporary mythology that gets a pass, almost. You don’t have to suspend your belief when you’re going into sci-fi as much as you would, say, fantasy or something like that. You don’t have to be like, "for a moment I’ll just imagine that dragons exist" but for some reason, you can go "now I’m flying in a spaceship" and all of a sudden everyone’s like "yeah, okay, I’m on board, I get it". There are more analogies in contemporary life for sci-fi, in my opinion, than classical fantasy, and so in that sense, I like it. I think it’s a great medium for telling stories, even though mine are super ambiguous. I think it’s really fascinating, and in general, a contemporary myth-making is really, really important to me. I remember, for instance, growing up in graffiti - that was always really important, you know, you’d meet these really big personalities and it was all about meeting these mythologised… they weren’t even people, right? They were these creatures that existed outside of how people would go about their day-to-day life.
Most of the renaissance artists were all dealing with mythology, and that was their contemporary mythology, and I wouldn’t say that I’m continuing that tradition for the most part, but that’s definitely at the back of my mind when I’m making stuff like that. I like the idea of a personal mythology, it seems like a super antiquated idea as well - I like that there are these weird vestigial notions that kind of stick around despite the fact that we live in this very transparent and open time where you can access anyone and talk to anyone you like, and there’s still this kind of mythologising that happens. I mean, I’m doing it right now, I’m doing this interview - people are going to read it and get a certain impression of who I am, and it’s going to perpetuate a certain picture of me in somebody else’s mind. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way, right? I’m a human being that is subject to the same societal, social fuckin’ constraints - physical constraints that everybody else deals with, right?
So I like dealing with those kinds of subject matters, and, as a more aerial view of that, how that kind of ties into the march of progress, so to speak. So all those kinds of digital technologies that are supposed to be pushing us forward into this more and more utilitarian place and instead, it doesn’t seem to be doing that to me - it seems to be more that we’re forming more tribes, we’re forming more mythologies, we understand even less of the tools that we use everyday, you know? I don’t know how your phone works, I can’t pull it apart and put it back together, it’s fuckin’ magic! You are literally holding a magic box in front of me, right now, and I love that about it.
How do you think the internet has impacted the arts?
Good question. I hope that we’re in a place, now, where the internet is so omnipresent that it doesn’t anymore, and I hope that'll be resolved soon.
Would you categorise your aesthetic as more in the world of ‘fine art’, or lowbrow stylings?
I don’t think there’s any difference anymore, I think they’re the same and there are arbitrary rules that we’ve imposed on ourselves. I see just as much fine art in a bus shelter ad as I do in some performative piece in a gallery setting.
Do you think the perception towards art as a whole is different in Melbourne as opposed to Perth?
Yeah, definitely. Obviously Melbourne is quite liberal - in the classical sense of the word rather than the political sense of the word - they’re very liberal, very much into their arts, and so they’re definitely more accepting of public art on the whole. They love street art, they love the arts as a whole, they love dance, they love theatre - Melbourne has a rich tradition of that. Part of that is because the population is so huge, so you get more people congregating to that, but it definitely seems to be more strong - they put more of an emphasis on art as a society. I have no stats to back that up, but that’s personal experience.
Was that part of the reason you moved?
Yes. Melbourne has an excellent reputation for the arts. Big shout out to you, Melbourne! You did me real well, thank you so much Melbourne.
Are you seeing any trends coming up in visual art?
Large-scale murals seem to be kind of on the way out, it feels like the public is kind of tiring of them at the moment. I can’t really say definitely what’s going to come after that though. I’d love to see, and I touched on this before, the closure between those online spaces and the contemporary art spaces. It feels real forced at the moment, there’s a lot of people that are shoehorning digital artists into, say, VJ roles, for, you know, experimental musicians, whereas those pieces, in my mind, are standalone pieces and they work perfectly well without needing to be seen at a concert with a pinger or whatever.
Going back in time, let's talk about Last Chance - you were working with them for a while?
I love those guys, and I still think, to a certain extent, they’re a really important institution for Perth. I wish they were over in Melbourne with me, we’d have more fun - I think they’re great. To a certain extent - I mean part of this is biased because I was involved with it - I feel like we were really important at the time in bringing, what was at that time, contemporary muralism to the fore in Perth. It wasn’t especially important on an international level - lots of people had been doing that for yonks - but it’s kind of bittersweet in a way. To me it seems like it kind of sucks that we had to stick all of us into a studio and be represented by this brand in order to get recognition or whatever, because it feels like heaps of us were doing all that stuff already, and we shouldn’t have had to represent ourselves in such a way in order to make any headway.
Do you think the motives behind muralism have changed as it's becoming more commercialised?
I’m going to come through with a bit of a hot take right now - I think the dichotomy between muralism and graffiti and their connection - people have been trying to commercialise that process since its recognition as a culture, you know, going back to the 80s. Even when I was doing graffiti in the late 90s and early 2000s, people were interested in going into commercial mural work, and has that effect become more and more amplified as time’s gone on? Totally, you know. Money's empowering, it's important, and artists should earn it.
As someone who has been through that whole process, is there anything you're keen to expand your practice to from here?
I’ll probably start working on a new show, but this one’s taken me, like, fuckin’ four years to do, so I don’t imagine that process is going to speed up anytime soon. Because those masks kind of touch on cultural identity and tribes and all that sort of thing, I’d love to start getting into clothes - that’d be great. Most cultures, in my mind, have a uniform that you wear to outwardly identify other people that are interested in the same culture, so that’s kind of important to me, and I kind of want to take the piss out of that in an exhibition. That’d be great.
What else can we expect to see in your current exhibition?
I’m working on some projection stuff, which is more dealing with the style of the show - so colours and abstracts and all that sort of thing, along with a little bit of the process of what goes into making the masks. It has a real abstract quality when you watch the process of making them - it’s real geometric, and I appreciate that a lot. I like that aesthetic.
How do you think it will be received by audiences?
I hope it’ll be received well. I hope people are okay with all the disparate elements and influences that I've put together, and understand the references that I’m making, and they’ll understand that it’s something that I feel passionately about. And hopefully they’ll think it’s good enough for them to buy it, and it warrants going and looking at in the very least.
Do you think a lot of those elements and influences have featured in your past work, as well?
Yeah, in my mind, but visually probably are not immediately obvious. I was working in a completely different style and a completely different milieu - milieu, wow, fuck me dead, okay, I just used that word! - and in my mind, it makes perfect sense. The lineage is easy to follow, I’m the protagonist in the movie that is my shitty life, and it makes total sense. It may not for other people, right? So if you were a big fan of my lettering in the early 2000s, you might not see the connection between doing portraits and 3D printing now, but hopefully people like it anyway if they don’t 'get' it.
You mentioned 'constraints' earlier on, albeit in a different context - have there been any obstacles to your development as an artist?
For me personally, it was about being happy with the work that I was making, and being ready to push it out into the world - that was probably the biggest obstacle. For other people, those obstacles would be different - those obstacles could be social connections. The art world is notoriously incestuous, and you’d need to be able to meet people and get into galleries and art fairs and dealerships and all that sort of thing. For me, I don’t necessarily worry about those kinds of institutions, because I have my own following or whatever, so the largest obstacles that I faced are personal - whether or not I’m happy, whether or not I like what I’m doing, whether or not I feel like I’m tackling the subjects that I’m tackling with an even amount of ambiguity and specificity that helps people relate to it.
Is there any advice you'd give to people starting out?
Make stuff. My stuff was garbage when I first started - I hate it and I never want to see it ever again. You will always make garbage stuff - put it on the internet, show it to your friends, don’t wait too long to put it out there. Your career is a growth trajectory. Don’t worry about anything, just put it out there. Everybody’s embarrassed by the stuff that they do, constantly.