Ryan Quast reconstructs the everyday one brushstroke at a time.
Paint becomes something altogether different in the hands of Vancouver-based Ryan Quast. Is he a painter? Is he a sculptor? Perhaps it is best to consider him a hybrid of the two.
Quast’s recreations of everyday items, such as paint cans, dust pans and toilet plungers are made of layers of oil and latex paint that he slowly builds up and molds into shape over long periods of time. “I’m not doing anything that is fancy, technically,” he says. “I’m simply making brush strokes over and over. Anyone can do that if they have the patience and stamina.”
Patience and stamina, indeed. Quast came to develop the patience needed to make his work though a series of 1,000 doodles of daisies he made on Post-It notes in 2003, all of which are in a binder sitting on a shelf at his studio in the Burrard Arts Foundation building in East Vancouver. “It was a meditative process, but was also a way of making something when I wasn’t at the studio, like on the bus to school,” Quast explains. Although he says that these small drawings started as a “whatever” project, what he learned from them is that a single action done repeatedly will accrue and results don’t have to be obtained quickly. They’re the reason that his studio practice is “a long, slow burn.”
Several pieces that Quast will be showing at Wil Aballe Art Projects (WAAP) in August took him many months to several years to produce. “The upright dust pan probably took me the longest to make, about eight years,” he says. “I often hit stages of feeling like, ‘Ugh, this isn’t worth it’, but when I reach that point, I’ll take some time off from the piece. I do have other projects that are less time-consuming and provide more immediate satisfaction.”
Quast’s process for building his objects consists of a repetitive cycle of painting, allowing the paint to dry, sanding and carefully molding the individual pieces. The period between building up sheets of paint and allowing them to dry before sanding them can be weeks if not months, especially if there are grooves or textures in the surface of the sculpture. “Depending on the complexity of the piece, I might not be able to start sanding the paint until it has been in a mold for six or seven months,” Quast explains. “Often the paint shrinks as it dries, so I have to build it back up again and even it out. I have almost started to cry from exhaustion at points; it starts to feel masochistic.”
Quast cites Duchamp and the Readymade when asked about his influences. But, visually, the work of 1960s Pop Artists, specifically Claes Oldenburg, come to mind when looking at Quast’s objects, as does the work of the senior Vancouver-based artist Liz Magor. “I sat in on a sculpture class Magor taught at Emily Carr during my second year,” he says upon mention of Magor’s name. “She was an amazing instructor, and yes, she is an influence, as well. Her attention to detail inspires me to push my own work to the same level of craftsmanship. She made a piece that looks like a leather jacket or tote bag with cigarettes pushed into it (Leather, 2010). I remember the first time I saw it. I found it simple, yet personal. I could identify with it easily. That’s what is outstanding about her work; how relatable to life her sculptures are. I hope to capture that feeling in my own work.”
After completing his second year at Emily Carr, Quast participated in an exchange program at London’s Chelsea School of Art, where he discovered work by British artist Gavin Turk. “Turk made a piece that looks like a figure curled up in sleeping bag (Nomad, 2003). That work is specifically about homelessness. My work is not about that, but I am similarly interested in how we represent things around us and personalize them. My objects embody the idea of how our need to work, to be productive, contributes to our sense of identity, but I don’t co-opt other people’s experiences. By reconstructing objects that we’re all familiar with, I’m hoping people can slip easily into the work and think about these ideas.”
One of the most complicated pieces that will be on view at WAAP in August is a replica of a paint tray, complete with a roller and skins of dried paint. The piece took Quast five years to make and consists of five parts fused together with gesso or extra layers of paint applied at the joints. “All the paint scraps are scrapings from the studio floor and my palette from cleaning up after finishing the piece,” says Quast. “It’s actually quite heavy, maybe about five pounds of paint.”
Much lighter are a series of, well… lighters and cigarettes (a nod to Magor, perhaps?), six of which will be presented at WAAP. Despite their smaller size, Quast claims that they require as much work as the larger pieces. “The smaller objects are fragile and finicky,” he says. “I actually spend more time trying to make them look like the real thing. In some of the larger works, you will find small flaws that betray my hand but, with the lighters, I’m trying to remove indications of the hand of the artist as much as possible.”
One piece that won’t be ready for the show is a re-creation of a plastic Coleman cooler, a common fixture at campsites and beaches, currently sitting in Quast’s studio. “That piece is only about two years in,” Quast says with a slightly apologetic-sounding chuckle. “I’m still building up the layers of paint and sanding it, and I also want to make a folded beach towel to go with it. If I can figure out how to make a hinged lid that can open and close securely, perhaps it’ll be finished in another three years.”
Ryan Quast’s first solo exhibition opens at Wil Aballe Art Projects in Vancouver on August 9.
Bill Clarke was the Executive Editor of Magenta Magazine Online from its inception in September 2009 until May 2017. His writing has been published in Modern Painters, Art Review, Canadian Art, Artnews and several other publications. In January 2017, he assumed the position of associate director at Angell Gallery in Toronto.