“One of my paintings is actually made of 30 or 40 little paintings. They're all glued together, and you can see them from one side,” says Todd Ryan White. “They're one big piece, and then you go around the backside or the other side and it's all of these little, discrete pieces.”
Todd is an artist and illustrator based in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife, Thais Mather, and their semi-fresh (15 months old at time of interview) baby girl. Todd and Thais co-own and operate Good Folk, a gallery showcasing the works of artists from northern New Mexico and Oaxaca, Mexico. However, from now until Jan. 25, it’s Todd’s artwork that will be on display at form & concept (lowercase intentional) with his solo show: Rainbow Eater.
Consisting primarily of large paintings on paper, Rainbow Eater features very detailed and extensively crafted pieces made by Todd over the past eight years. “They're pretty tense and they're pretty meaningful,” he explains. “I try to blend the mythological and the personal into my own iconography. So, there's lots of things that people recognize that are fantastical: unicorns, dragons, and so on, but I try to make them very much symbolic of what we are experiencing as people. There's ecological concerns, environmental concerns, and then also my personal life and how it’s changing and evolving.”
A transplant from southern California — see: Orange County, skateboarding, punk rock, etc. — Todd grew up attaching his identity to anything that felt like an alternative to the religious and socially-conservative culture that surrounded him.
“I was always interested in making art, and really, I sort of make the exact same things that I did as a fourth grader...they're just made better. But, when I saw skateboards and started interacting with album artwork and stuff, I couldn't imagine being an artist in any other way. That was the only way I understood that an artist could have a place in the world.”
After dabbling in the world of skateboard/snowboard art, Todd got schooled in fine art from The Museum of Fine Arts (naturally) in Boston, where he first considered art for its own sake. Yet, he clarifies, “The vernacular, the sort of thought process of creating in a graphic sensibility, and having that relationship to music or skateboarding, it sort of never left my vocabulary as an artist.”
The result of Todd’s upbringing, his educational exposure, and his reaction to the Santa Fe art scene is an intentionally erratic collision of psychedelia — more to the point, “a love and interest of the grotesque” — skepticism, and mythology with a range of materials including concrete, wood, leather, glass, canvas, and paper. For Todd, this approach says more about the whole of his work than, perhaps, those irrefutable themes of his youth.
“I feel there's a lot of artwork that is made in a very safe sensibility, as far as what people are comfortable with. I really wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and make things that I don't know anything about. Drawing and painting is very safe for me, and I sort of know what’s going to happen when I do those things. I wanted to experiment with other materials and just let go of my need to control what the outcome is.”
When you try to put the pieces of Todd’s life together it all starts to make sense, until, suddenly, you discover something else. Outside of his art, his gallery, and his role as a husband and father, Todd plays in a band and runs a record label (King Volume Records sells music at the Meow Wolf Santa Fe gift shop). With all of these interests and responsibilities, it could be easy to armchair-diagnose Todd with a lack of focus, or maybe as someone who gets bored easily. To Todd, though, it’s as natural as drawing air.
“Any one of those things, or any two of them, you could really fill your life with. And I don't know why there's always so many...I guess that the variety is really important for me, that they all inform each other in really meaningful ways. I would love for there to be a grand, unifying equation of how all of my musical interests and all of my artistic interests were just one thing. I think that this show sort of tries to do that. My art installations are a place where all of these things can exist simultaneously.”
Of course, whether Todd’s work is ultimately considered to be a grand unification or a spectacular pileup seems to be of little concern to him. It’s the interplay itself — the act of buying a record because of the album artwork — that writes the definition, not the artist’s intention nor the audience’s eyes alone.
“There's this sort of breathing between the interior and the exterior world that I think of as kind of a psychedelic experience,” he says. “When the interior is coming out and the exterior is coming inside...those lines blur.”
Todd Ryan White’s Rainbow Eater is currently showing at form & concept, and runs through Jan. 25, 2020.
There will be two events accompanying Todd’s show this weekend:
Dec. 20 (TONIGHT!) at 7 p.m. - Musical Performance by The Bed Band
Dec. 21 at 12 p.m. - Artist Talk with Todd Ryan White