For a special event tonight at The Newsstand, we sat down with Ryan McGinness and José Parlá as the two artists and friends share a joint release party together — the pair will be selling and signing their own artists books, as well as making exclusive limited edition products just for the event. We caught up to discuss their working process, their aesthetic similarities, and how they perceive the art world.
Beyond the books, you have both achieved such varied bodies of work. Ryan seems to be a bit more ordered in his process, though you both seem to have a looseness to your aesthetics. Can you comment on that?
Ryan: Yes, there’s a balance in my paintings between very ordered and structured components, and then this kind of chaotic picture plane. So for me, the process in a nutshell is to create very ordered visual logic, and then add these little drawings which can then allow the work to be a little bit looser, if that makes any sense.
José: Primarily I'm a painter, but for years I've always experimented with filmmaking, photography — and that's my prime inspiration, because of my travels, always having a camera with me, always taking photos. I start with that, taking inspiration from the palettes of city walls I've seen. I live through those photos to make my paintings in the studio. For me, it's always about problem solving, layers are a problem of time, and I work with paint in the same way that a wall accumulates history and journals accumulate writing — I imagine that a wall is a journal that belongs to the city and its people. At the same time, the painting has two dualities, as an abstraction and in realizing this attempt at a real life, as a wall would have a real life for a city. It stops being a canvas at one point and it becomes a wall, a diary, and painting. It has several lives, and the process is very experimental.
Ryan: Yes, that’s why I’ve always responded to José’s work. It’s very similar but coming out at the work from a very, very different approach.
Yes, well, I mean I also love that you just did that in a book and you’ve done so many different books. What is the fascination of books for you?
Ryan: I grew up making books and it was a way for me to organize my life and for me to understand my existence. At the end of every school year, you know, I would make a book that chronicled that year and then I would collect different things in my life and makes books based on those collections. It was a very useful tool for me to understand the world and so I’ve always made books. I’ve always loved making books and I still love making books.
José: I had been making zines since the 80s and I have a huge collection of my zines and sketchbooks dating back to then, but it's been awhile since. So it was a nice thing to revisit for this project for The Newsstand, it seems like the perfect place to share it.
Cool, and then I just want to talk about a couple of the things that you’re going to have there. So Ryan, you’re going to have the new sketchbook book, which is everything from 2008 through 2012?
Ryan: Yes, it’s called Sketchbook Selections 2000 to 2012 and it’s published by Ginkgo Press. And it’s me going through 12 years of sketchbooks and just extracting kind of the best of my favorite sketches and my favorite notes. It is a very selfish book in a way because it’s a way for me to be able to reference all these sketches and notes without having to go back to my original sketch books and flip through every page.
That is awesome. I mean it’s really cool to see that process.
Ryan: Yes, and I very rarely, you know, show the sketches and all the drawings.
José, what about you?
José: I'll have two books — "Broken Language", which is a series of paintings that I showed at Haunch of Venison, inspired by photographs I took in India and Cuba. And "Prose", from my recent solo exhibition at Yuka Tsuruno in Tokyo. I also made some old school handmade zines, numbered with stickers in the back, of my photos and paintings, some are printed with letters, writing, shapes and forms. I did it all by hand just in the last two weeks, and it's really exciting.
How do you find working within the art world? Navigating those waters?
Ryan: It’s just living. It’s just living for me. You know, I feel so dead when I’m just not in the studio working — to have to walk outside the studio and to have to be somewhere where I can’t actually be drawing or painting or working or sketching. That’s real work, and I don’t work very often.
José: I agree with Ryan, everything that goes on in art outside of creating is possibly the most tedious — all the business aspects.
Speaking of Alife, Ryan, over the weekend was looking at your book, "The Fine Art of Corporate Sponsorship"...
Ryan: Great, yes. You know what, I think the whole landscape has changed and it’s become a softer issue now — even when I first published that book and did all those interviews with all of my peers, even then it was a bit passé.
Is corporate sponsorship just the way it works now?
José: What's happened is mainly positive because more young artists than ever before can now live and survive off their art. There are always negatives which can be in any business, but the problem in art is that we think of it as this romantic and sacred process only — and it is, but at the same time, artists should become aware and informed of the business aspects, otherwise they will be taken advantage of. And it's just really interesting waters to navigate. I think any artist should be able to be informed and find the balance, but I think overall it's mainly positive.
Ryan: Well, yes, it depends on the relationship.
Well, then I just wanted to ask you sort of how you feel about where the New York art scene is at right now.
Ryan: I think that people make the assumption that there is kind of one art world and that one world has its finger on the pulse. And I don’t think that’s the case. One of the great things about New York City is that there are so many art worlds operating in so many different stratospheres, on the ground and above the ground and below the ground and on the radar and off the radar and in every, like, little nook and cranny and back alley and major gallery and, you know, museum.
José: I think that's what is really important: to inspire a community, more than how you'd even anticipate. It doesn't matter what status you have, but to have a part in that, catching people's attention walking by...
Ryan: Well, the equalizer there is, you know, I ride the subway, like, we all take the subway and that’s the great thing about being in the subway, taking part in The Newsstand, you know.
José: Yes, especially given the history of the New York City subway. I think that's super positive, finding art where you would never find it.
How’s everything going? I would be curious to hear a little bit about your relationship with each other. How you guys know each other, how you did you meet?
Ryan: I assume that we met through Alife, or as is the case with most of my friendships, through a mutual friend.
José: I met Ryan years ago through a few friends, I would say in 2000, through Julia Chang during the time of Tokion. She had just done a show with Ryan at Deitch Projects, and Ryan would host a game night at his studio, where friends, artists, people in publishing would go — it was a good downtown early crew in the early 2000s — we met then and became friends.