Ryan McGinness: Steady As He Goes


Condition Report by Ryan McGinness (2022)
Condition Report by Ryan McGinness (2022)

Ryan McGinness talks about art, education and great advice with Sarah J. Edwards for BLAG Vol.4 Nø 1. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s probably quite reasonable to say us humans have at least one thing in common. We’re all on a quest for a good life. 

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the pursuit of happiness. Doing what you love being key. As the lauded Charles Bukowski is often quoted, ‘My dear, find what you love and let it kill you.’ 

It’s becoming more and more apparent anybody artistic must fuel their daily lives with creativity, curiosity, output and positivity. John Mellancamp was quoted saying both he and Stephen King turned into hypochondriacs when not being creative and it took them a while to pinpoint that. 


When you get into the meaning of artistry, its definition is wrapped in resounding positivity. In fact it may be one of the few words in the dictionary that has both extremely optimistic meaning and example. 

Admiration, accomplishment and proficiency, words reserved for high accolade and yet artistry is an often unsung hero of problem solving. It can elicit positive emotion in an instant. 

Meet New York City based artist Ryan McGinness, whose art is a good brain booster. 

Highly advanced as a child, Ryan’s art juxtaposes opulence with a skateboard kid heritage. 

It methodically explores geometrics and iconography, fusing art history, public signage and corporate logos, but never fits in a box. Ryan takes an unabashed and bold stance to colour and an educated approach to layering and shapes. Delivering strong yet subtle messaging. 

Ryan’s work is included in many public and private collections around the world from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Taguchi Art Collection in Japan, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Charles Saatchi Collection. His home has been featured in the coveted Architectural Digest. 

Tell us about growing up in Virginia Beach.

“I was in Virginia Beach from 1977-1990, for kindergarten through twelfth grade. I left in 1990 to go to university. While the city promotes itself as the “world’s largest resort city,” it is really a military town with four military bases within sprawling suburbs. There is also the beachfront, which primarily draws the tourists, so I grew up with a sense of us vs. them—locals vs. tourists. That model shaped my worldview and informs how I understand the art world. Art is the magical natural resource that artists (locals) are able to harness, give form, and share. Two kinds of tourists come to art—the preservationists who want to take care of the beaches by picking up trash and planting grass to protect the dunes (for example) and those who want to exploit the natural resources and sell shells.”

Tell us a story about when you very first realised art was for you?

“I’m not sure it is it for me. I feel very alone and singular in my art career. While my work comes out of an interest in graphic design, I don’t provide a service, and my work doesn’t support any agenda outside of itself. It is almost as if my work defaults to “art.” I’m exaggerating a bit, because I certainly purposefully make art objects that get shown in galleries and museums, but my approach to art-making and my aesthetic pursuit can be confusing for many. I suppose it was soon after I graduated and moved to NYC that I realized art was the only context into which my work fit.”

Can you tell us about your education? What (school/college) did you go, what kind of student were you? 

“I’m still learning, and I don’t ever want to stop. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true and something I am trying to instill in my daughters—teaching them how to learn and recognize the joy and stimulation of building new neural networks—so that they can be life-long learners.

I was fortunate to attend a school for gifted and talented children from a young age. I was in the art program at that school and studied college-level art history while I was in grade school. The program was strict and instilled in me a sense that art was a serious discipline. I attended that school in addition to the normal public school where art was not prioritized and often considered an “easy A.” Through high school I was more academically inclined and involved in the debate team and student government. I was the class president, honor society president, etc.—I was that kind of student. My passion was for art, but I craved the discipline that went along with it. I found that structure in something called “graphic design,” and made that my major at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.”

Who encouraged or inspired you the most during your formative years?

“My mother was a maker, so our house was filled with numerous crafting areas. She made my toys growing up, and always encouraged me to make my own things. When I was applying for colleges, she pointed out that Andy Warhol attended Carnegie Mellon University (then Carnegie Tech).”

What’s the best piece of advice you received and always go back to?

“Keep as much of your own work as possible. When an artist starts to enter the market, each work of art becomes a share in the artist’s now public corporation. One should always be the majority shareholder in order to maintain control. Other advice: Don’t try to make art. The best art has not yet been defined as art. And, remember that nobody cares. Nobody cares about your inner dialogue or your philosophical intentions behind the the work. Nobody cares about your justifications. All that matters is the work itself.”

Continue reading in BLAG Vol.4 Nø 1, available here

More about BLAG Vol.4 Nø 1 here