AN INTERVIEW WITH RICKY ALLMAN:
THE 22 MAGAZINE: You mention that you were raised in a conservative church (Mormon in Utah correct?) and "filled your life with church meetings" instead of cool and exciting things. Tell me a little about that experience? And your decision to reverse?
RICKY ALLMAN: The whole process took more than five years to make sense of who I was as a person and what I believed and didn't believe. I was indoctrinated from the time I was born to devote my entire life to the Mormon Church and didn't even have the tools to question it. There are any number of thought stopping techniques successfully employed by the church to prevent you from even questioning. So around the time I turned 30, after years of thought and research, and with the help of my brother (who went through the same process) and a few friends, I finally gained enough knowledge and confidence to resign from the church and now I feel it's one of my greatest accomplishments in life.
THE 22: You attended MassArt and R.I.S.D., tell me how how your experiences there effected you both as a person and an artist? Any defining moments?
RA: I loved my time at both schools. My daughter was born while I was at MassArt and my son was born while I was at R.I.S.D. so I worked very hard and socialized very little. I regret not being able to socialize more but I also learned so much during those years. At MassArt, I was very naive and started going to museums for the first time and was exposed to some great visiting artists. While I was there I started working with apocalyptic landscape ideas that carried on throughout grad school and has shaped my work now. At R.I.S.D., I was pushed very hard both conceptually and formally and I'm still trying to use all of the lessons I learned there.
THE 22: Before both these schools it seems undeniable that you were probably displaying some real artistic talent. Can you tell me a little about early art experiences?
RA: In 5th grade, a friend of mine loved Garfield and my other friend and I loved The Simpsons. So, to prove the superiority of our cartoon preference we drew dozens, maybe even a hundred, parody movie posters in which Bart Simpson kills Garfield in some gruesome fashion related to the movie being parodied. We then bound all the drawings and presented them to our Garfield loving friend. I always liked to draw but didn't take art seriously until college (I think I took one art class in high school) and I realized how much I enjoyed drawing classes and then I decided to see if I liked the painting classes too.
THE 22: You also went to England on a mission as a Mormon. Tell me a little about this experience?
RA: Imagine living in one of the most historically and culturally rich countries in the world and instead of enjoying any of that you walk around in the rain for 2 years, 80 hrs/wk, knocking on doors, pissing people off and having them tell you how much they hate you. That's what it was like.
THE 22: Was polygamy ever a part of your Mormon experience?
RA: I was never part of any of the fundamentalist polygamist groups (although they were all around me growing up in Utah). However, the mainstream Mormon church has quite a few fundamentalist roots and ideas still propagated today. They believe polygamy is essential in the afterlife but do not currently practice it. Most people can't be expected to know the differences between the Mormon sects so I used to get asked frequently if I had more than one wife.
THE 22: There is a quote from Carl Sagan that you mention:
"The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides." Is your work a pretty story or are you facing down death and kneeling at its magnificence?
RA: I think that is probably more of a personal approach I take to life rather than an underpinning for my paintings. I think that as wonderful as life and this world is, it's also important to be pragmatic and to be reminded of our own mortality from time to time—not only our personal mortality but to consider the potential we have to destroy our landscape and our cities and countries.
THE 22: In an interview you did for Curbs and Stoops they say "Allman's recent work is populated by bursts of joyful confetti and neon swirls, rich with benign presence." What do feel these swirls and colors represent? Are they benign to you? Or do they play a role of action?
RA: When I was struggling the most with the Mormon Church and wanting to leave but not knowing how, I was making these paintings that had swirling chaos inside of churches, these images were coming out fairly intuitively. I really liked the imagery though, and later I began taking off the steeples of the church and using these cubes of swirling color. I repurposed the cubes as a concentrated area of hope and optimism rooted in reason and science as opposed to the faith and mythology of my previous belief system.
THE 22: In another of your interviews you mention, "I am a sucker for a spectacle and complicated space." Why?
RA: I think it's just the way my mind works for some reason. I like to have lots of things happening in my field of vision and survey large spaces with a lot of activity and compare and contrast and make links with what I see and what I think about. For example, I never cared much for Ellsworth Kelly's work until I saw a huge show of his at LACMA and I could look at 30 pieces at a time. When I could look at them all at once, it just made more sense to me and I enjoyed the work way more.
THE 22: Many of your pieces look almost like factories, in desolate landscapes. Do you have any history with factories? Or industrial buildings?
RA: I do, I grew up in Orem, UT just up the street from a large steel factory called Geneva Steel (which has since been packed up and moved to China). Some days the pollution from the factory was so bad we couldn't go out for recess. I am fascinated with the transformation of the landscape into our lives as we know them, and how that will take shape in the future. That transformation comes to a head in our mines and our factories, of which I have quite a few ambivalent feelings about.
THE 22: I also wonder if you've dealt at all with Pennsylvania Hex signs and/or polish paper cuts? I see some tendencies in that direction. Do you ever try to specifically use symbolic or recognizable elements in your work for any specific reason?
RA: I don't have any relationship to those specifically but I do love symmetry, near symmetry, and things that appear ritualistic, symbolic, sacred, and sinister. I like taking secular elements and repurposing them. I love these types of signs that have obscured or layered meaning that are innocent or even inspiring to those in the know but can also seem threatening or nefarious to outsiders. I used to use more recognizable Mormon symbols but now I attempt to make my own signs and symbols out of smaller elements.
THE 22: You also say: "Especially lately after listening to TED talks I feel pretty confident that humans are wise enough and clever enough to innovate new ways to overcome these immense environmental and political problems we now face."
Anyone in particular who inspired you?
RA: So many! Peter Diamindis: "Abundance is our Future" is one talk that comes to mind right away. Drew Berry, Bjarke Ingels, Rachel Armstrong, Michael Pawlyn, and Carlo Ratti are others. There are dozens and dozens more.
THE 22:Tell me a little about your process of painting. I read there's a lot of layering and taping and some quick drying. How did you arrive at this technique?
RA: I guess it's something that has kind of evolved over the years. There are no hard rules and formulas I stick to, but in general I start with at least five layers of gesso, sanded and smoothed, then I paint a loose painterly ground followed by many layers of gel medium sanded and smoothed. Then I start loosely blocking in large areas of the composition, then taping off some of the large structures and responding to what I put down. I spend the bulk of the time taping and painting hard edge structures. When it gets too tight then I start getting more painterly and loose. I usually wait until the end to paint in the fine lines and tiny details. Most of it is pretty intuitive and I don't have any plans, I am usually just reacting to the last color or structure or mark I made.
THE 22: You are working in Kansas City now, correct? Did the school suffer at all from budget cutting that went on a while back in KC?
RA: Kansas City is an amazing city for artists. There are lots of cheap studios, space, galleries, museums, and multiple arts organizations giving out grants and studio space. I've never been in art community quite like this one. The University has had its share of budget cuts, we've had to delay or suspend hiring faculty and other disappointments.
Although I don't think it's been nearly as bad here as it has been in many other states. However, they have always been very supportive of me and my work and given me tremendous support through time, travel, and grants.
THE 22: What are you currently working on and what's coming up?
RA: I just got back from Scotland where I was in a show at Edinburgh Printmakers, I have group shows coming up in Portland, Paris, Arkansas, Utah, New Hampshire and a solo show in Kansas City. I will be painting and drawing working on those, but I've got a few installation and video ideas I'm starting get into, so we will see what happens there.