In New Ways: Art & Direction with Ryan Oakley

How did you first get into art?

So, I was born in Los Angeles but raised in Greensboro.

I always liked art and was always drawing but I ultimately thought I was going to get into medicine so that’s what I was more so pursuing when I went to undergrad. Even though I still majored in Spanish and studio art I did all the pre-med pre-requisites.

Then I kind of fell off of art because of time and trying to do the whole pre-med track and I ended up getting back into it through an open call at this organization, Amplifier Art. They were looking for voter registration art for getting people out to vote and I came up with this idea of a female boxer where they’re wrapping their hands with the American flag, almost like tape. So, I came up with the little line “Fight for your Rights” and they loved it and my piece was one of fifty to be selected.

So I really got into the activism art per say, but I think personally I like to make comic art. That’s what I’m interested in doing. Incorporating different social justice themes in it as well, and themes of race are cool to add into that. But I haven’t gotten there yet. I had some fan art published in a comic book called Bitter Root. It’s a really good comic and they were addressing the 1930 Tulsa Massacre before it was popular to address it. I think it’s crazy how everything is coming out now and I was already reading that book and they were talking about that and now a lot more people are finding out about that event. But yeah, that’s kind of a good summary of where I am now.

So, looking specifically to your series “Connecting in New Ways”, the pieces are very clearly connected to our current context, but was there a specific moment or situation that inspired you?

So, Amplifier was looking for COVID related art for open call, and my piece wasn’t necessarily chosen but it was a staff pick. And then I was talking with my brother about it and he was just talking about how he’s connected more with his family and is getting to know more about his daughters and his wife. So I kind of wanted to make a poster that reflects the positive things that are coming out of COVID and like how we’re all being forced to slow down and reassess and readjust our lives. So that’s kind of what the whole basis of that piece was and then I wanted to tie in how how we are using technology to lessen the gaps between each other and we’re also finding technology not to be as scary… I feel like a lot of people fear, well not technological advances and stuff like that but, we’re kind of being forced to have to use it. So, I wanted to speak on that as well and also kind of pose a question as to how this will affect us in the future. Because pandemics aren’t going to go away, there’s going to be more, so how are we going to use this to our advantage?

So you mentioned earlier that social justice themes often have a place in your work, are there any specific messages or themes you find yourself returning to in your pieces?

I think I really try to put women forward, and even within that I try to put women of color and Black women in my images because I think it’s important to have positive images out there. Media has an important role in how we see ourselves in society so it’s important to have positive images.

I think a lot of people related to the different images, especially the feminist ones that I did that had the 1973 on the t-shirts. I tried to create body inclusivity even though some images weren’t used and to show women from different backgrounds as well. And now I’m trying to do a better job of including LGBTQ+ identities in my artwork as well because that’s important and a lot of black LGBTQ+ individuals are at the forefront of a lot of important things that are being done.

What do you feel is the particular impact or role of art that makes it an important medium in periods of social change?

I think if you look through history, art has been a reflection of the times. It’s almost this somewhat impartial documentation of history and also a personal documentation because it’s through the lens of an individual and they’re going to put in their personal experiences as well.

I think it’s important to put what’s going on it your art. It’s hard not to, to be honest, because everything around you is influencing you. Current events and the things that are going on are going to seep through your work anyway. I definitely think art is an important tool to get information out. Like especially through zines, I just got into zines. Zines were important for getting information about STD’s and social information out in a quick way as a pamphlet and all this.

Art is important even though we don’t treat it as such in our society. I think the pandemic has shown a lot of individuals how much we consume art and how it’s even an important part of mental health and de-stressing. Art is important.

Ryan is a multimedia artist creating anything from digital works of art and logos to traditional drawings and oil paintings. She is inspired by comic book art and diverse and strong women, which is often reflected in her work.  

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