Satellite Resident Artist: Ryan Dickerson
"I like anybody that is willing to go out there and be different, and allow you to be a scumbag. I’m into that."
In this interview, I spoke with Ryan Dickerson, a local artist/musician who's Bowie inspired work is on display at Satellite.
COLLIN: Tell me a little about yourself.
RYAN: I grew up in Peoria, IL. I lived there most of my life, and I moved here about 5 years ago. I participated in a lot of art shows in the Peoria area. My friends and I started a neighborhood art sale, which was essentially just a bunch of us getting drunk in someone’s back yard until the landlord finally cut us off. But it was really fun! We had a really good, small music and art scene that was just coming up. So we’d have live music—I played a couple of those shows—and I always sold art. Mostly at that time I was making rusty buttons and lighters. I like making tiny little things a lot. So recently I’ve had a transition into making more on canvas—and I really like the work on wood versus canvas, because it’s harder and I can beat the shit out of it. My process is kind of fun and violent, where I just like to start slapping paint on things and just like poke holes. I make a lot of my own tools that I work with. So I’ll just cut up metal scraps that I can use. The fun thing about doing that is it’s not like a normal straight pencil, or something, where you’re like, "I can guarantee this line will look like this." So it’s a challenge to see which way this jagged piece of metal is gonna take you, and then you have to clean it up from there if you don’t like what you did. And then you end up making something you like better in the first place.
C: I’m interested in the mark-making, especially on these pieces. Is this acrylic paint?
R: Yeah, it’s acryllic.
C: What tool are you using to make the scratching texture?
R: I’m trying to think of how to describe it. It’s some weird mesh type of a wire thing that I have. It’s kind of got some cube-sized holes in it. I don’t know what it was really made for, maybe some sort of garden fence? So I just took a scrap of it off and bent it into a strong enough tool that I could use as a utensil. So I fine-tuned that with pliers or something so I could round the edges off so I don’t cut directly through the medium.
C: Are these on wood or canvas?
R: These are all on canvas. The one’s that I made on wood—I haven’t looked too hard, but I don’t know where I can get frames that will fit them in there, so I usually just mount them on anything else, just without a frame.
C: And what attracted you to do collage?
R: My favorite thing is cutting things up. And it mostly started with the buttons and the lighters. I just like to cut things up, usually stickers. I worked at a skateboard shop for like, 6 years, so there were a lot of really cool stickers that came through there. And then, being a teenager, me and my friends would just hang out there all the time and start cutting things up because we were bored at work when there was nothing else to do. So that turned into, like, “what can I turn this into?” I’m also not necessarily the strongest freehand artist but I can cut things up and make them look exactly how I want them to. You can just keep fine-tuning it and slicing off bits and pieces here and there until it’s exactly what you were going for. I like to do a mix of a lot of it. One thing I’ve been experimenting with recently is tape. I’ll cut out interesting designs with tape—on wood works best. So as long as it’s the flat canvases, like these, you can cut directly on to it. So then I’ll paint over it with whatever colors I want on there and then rip the tape off. And then I make two pieces at one time by taking the strips that I’ve pulled off of that piece and making something else out of that at the same time. A few years ago I made a 90210 series where I cut the heads off of all the 90210 people. It was the same style with the scratch through coming out from the background. But you could visibly tell that that was definitely like, Jason Priestley or Luke Perry. You don’t need the face, but just the clothes and the style and everything about it—you can just tell. So a few weeks ago I realized I had this collection of 90210 heads, so I started making a new piece with the tape that I ripped off of a new piece and just started slapping that together. And I have this bouquet of 90210 faces. So I like to recycle all of the stuff that I cut up. It might be five years later and I’ll just find something, and be like “wow, that seems fun.” I’ll just be digging in my trove of art garbage.
C: Then you have an excess of material to constantly be working with. And it calls back pieces that you already worked on.
R: It usually depends on what stickers I’ll find, but sometimes I’ll seek out pictures online and maybe try to draw them poorly. If you get a good enough print, you can just cut out the picture that you’ve printed, manipulate that, and slap it on whatever you want. I’m really interested in this drag queen named Christeene. She’s the new filthiest drag queen alive. I love John Waters and Divine—I’m very inspired by the filthiness of all of that. She is probably the grossest drag queen in the whole US right now.
C: Where is she?
R: She’s in Austin, I think, but recently just got a lot of attention. A year or two ago, I think, she was touring with Peaches for select dates, doing a lot of Euro-tours and stuff like that. She came to Chicago a couple of years ago and that’s where I got the stickers that I had from her. She does her own music too, so it’s all very offensive. I got these stickers from her, and I’ve been hoarding them over the last year or two. I didn’t want to use them all up in a month… With these [lighters], I’ll get sticker paper and make the backgrounds and draw whatever designs I want. And then I’ll usually tap lyrics from songs and pick a line that I like from them, and maybe put their face on it or something like that. The one I made before this—I was super excited—she reposted it on Instagram. It got like 600 likes. I was like, “man, I’m insta-famous now.” It’s interesting how you can connect with people that you never thought would pay attention to you on social media. So that’s fun.
C: What do you think got you first interested in working specifically in the medium that you are now?
R: I think a lot of it is—since I moved to Chicago—I don’t do a lot of music, but I used to do a lot of music in Peoria because it was cheap to practice there, and I had space to do it. I do solo stuff, so I can’t afford a practice space just for myself, whereas most bands have four people that you split the rent. So I found myself completely starved of artistic things that I wanted to be doing. So I was like, "okay, what can I do to get this energy out and not get the cops called by my neighbors?" My boyfriend’s theatre group, The Plagiarists, do a fundraiser every year. They asked me if I wanted to participate. I was like, great. I’d love to do this as a project to work towards. That kick-started a lot of the more serious, bigger pieces that I was doing. I needed to make something where the whole point of it is to raise money for that company, and if I get kick-back and make some money too, great. But you’re not going to make a lot selling $5 lighters. Nobody’s benefiting from that. If it’s smaller and not worth money, I make it for me. Or if I really like you and you want one, we’ll see.
C: So you live in Ravenswood. How long have you been there?
R: Almost 5 years. Almost the whole time I’ve been here.
C: What would you say your connection to Ravenswood, or the Chicago community, is like?
R: That I’m a little bit more distanced from. I just really like the neighborhood. It’s super chill. I like that there’s lots of food, there’s a lot of good venues You’re right in between three different neighborhoods, so you’re not in the middle of all the madness. But if you do want to go out, it’s not that far, and you don’t have people screaming outside your building at all hours of the night because they're wasted.
C: In the way that you shifted from music more towards fine art, do you feel that was influenced at all by where you’re living now, or was it mostly just Chicago?
R: Well, Chicago prices.
C: Why these glam rock stars? Why these queer icons?
R: Well, it’s mostly what I’m into. They really helped me out a lot when I was growing up, saying it’s okay to be different. You don’t have to grow up super boring growing up in the Midwest and listening to rap/rock. I was always a punk kid growing up, so I was naturally just rebelling against everything. And if it was in-your-face, offensive, or anything like that, I wanted to be a part of it. I played in a lot of punk bands when I was younger and that bleeds into the glam rock scene—new wave, weird industrial… I like anybody that is willing to go out there and be different, and allow you to be a scumbag. I’m into that.
Self-proclaimed mixed-media master of tiny trinkets, Ryan Dickerson has been creating transient pieces on various mediums ranging from rusty buttons to Bic lighters since 2009, generally sticking to what will never last. Over the past few years, he has shown his work at fundraisers for the theater group, The Plagiarists, and is thrilled to make his debut at the Satellite Cafe! Graduating from tiny objects, Ryan is taking on canvas and wood, slapping paint, ink, tape, stickers, hate, mixed feelings, and (mostly) dead celebrities on whatever he wants as he sees fit. Though most of his recent work has been aimed at a cleaner audience, rest assured, his flame for eternal filth will never die.