Vancouver-based artist Ryan Heshka’s penchant for pulp art and 1930s monster movies is reflected in his delightfully dark and surreal pop art illustrations. We were invited into the weird and wonderful underworld of prehistoric giant insects, David Lynch soundtracks, and a chaos causing cat called Louis.
1. How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
“Pulp Surrealism”, or possibly “Neo-Pulp”, although those terms might be too narrow. My work is rooted in comics and old magazine illustration, but also integrates industrial and architectural design, natural history, typography, and so on. Maybe “Displaced Retro” is the best summary for my art. Trust me, I have a tough time narrowing it down for people when they ask me what I paint. I usually just tell them “Weird Art”!
2. Which book illustrations have stayed with you from childhood/influenced you?
Dr. Seuss first and foremost, in terms of book illustration. Specifically, the wonderful fish paintings from “McGelligot’s Pool”. The sci-fi covers of Frank R. Paul from the 1920’s to the 1940’s also burned themselves into my memory, and have remained a strong influence throughout my life. Also, numerous still photos (not illustrations, but still important) from books on 1950’s sci fi movies really stuck with me. Before I saw the actual films, I was intrigued by the various creatures from movies like “This Island Earth”, “War of the Worlds”, and “Invaders from Mars”. I always preferred these crude monsters to the more sophisticated ones of the 1970’s and ’80’s.
3. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people.
I’m not a very weird person. I just have a weird imagination. I think people are often surprised that I dress and speak normally, and have a polite disposition, considering some of the horrors I paint and draw. Art is my therapy… the world would be a better place if people could play out their strange, dark fantasies on paper and canvas, rather than on other people.
4. What type of artwork do you have hanging in your home?
Quite a few contemporary illustrators, whose work I have obtained in trades or purchased from galleries. Fred Stonehouse, Martha Rich, Mark Todd, Camille Rose Garcia. My prized painting is a Marcel Dzama. I also have a couple of pieces of interior pulp illustrations, featuring hairy beings. We have three large vintage jungle-themed movie posters hanging in our dining area/kitchen. I would have MUCH MORE if I could afford to. Money, and the fact my wife likes to keep things uncluttered, forces me to keep my art collecting under control.
5. Your new comic might be called Mean Girls Club, but we have nothing but love for it. Tell us more about it.
MGC started off as a sketch, grew into a larger painting, and finally became the seed for an art installation at Weiden + Kennedy in Portland, about two years ago. That’s when I developed the comic, as a part of this show that featured a full sized Mean Girls clubhouse (with a movie loop playing inside), murals, large format prints, and other experiments. I was able to develop the Mean Girls as an interactive world, and I believe that’s part of the reason it continues to speak to people: for a brief moment, it really existed, and these girls were real people (my friends, who played the Mean Girls in the short film, viewable on Youtube). The comic is close to selling out of its first printing, and I think the Mean Girls may return to the printed page in the near future.
6. Describe your working routine – studio, kitchen table, caffeinated beverage of choice, music, silence?
Everyday is different, which is what I love about what I do. But generally, it starts off in front of the computer in the home studio with a coffee about about 9 a.m., checking emails, responding to clients and orders. Whilst drawing and painting, I listen to everything from David Lynch soundtracks, to 1930’s jazz, to electronica, to old radio shows. Sometimes, I enjoy silence though. On a good day, I’ll get about 6 solid hours of painting in, but I generally need a day or two just to get errands, packing, etc. out of the way… clearing the path to creativity. I teach about one day a week, and that actually eats into a lot of creative time, but is rewarding in its own way. Some of my favourite studio time is after working on a specific painting all day, I’ll take leftover paints and just lay an image down in my sketchbook or on a random surface, and often, these spontaneous works will become personal favourites. I manage to shut off my professional self-consciousness, I am super warmed up from continuous painting, and things just flow.
7. What gets your juices flowing as an artist?
It really changes week to week. But I would say the element of surprise. When I am surprised by a film, or a student project that hits home, or something I see when I am out, that’s what does it for me. All my usual influences still count, like looking at art books, or sketching. But when something comes out of left field and blows my mind, that’s the feeling I try to recapture in my work. Surprise awakens and drives the image forward.
8. If you had a time machine that could take you anywhere, where would you go and what would you do?
That is almost impossible to answer!! I guess I would HAVE TO go back and check out some dinosaurs and giant insects… prehistoric swamps and forests. My close second is to go to post-depression/pre-WW2 New York (1939-ish), and hang out in some jazz clubs, buy some comics, go to the NY World’s Fair and just observe a simpler time.
9. What role does Louis the cat play in your business?
He’s there basically to create chaos in the studio. Step on computer keys and erase files, scatter papers about, track wet paint everywhere. He’s a huge help.
10. What areas of your work or personal development are you hoping to explore further?
I am currently moving into some large scaled oil paintings (about 1.5 meters square), and I am finding the transition from a small to large format challenging. In a good way. But brush strokes don’t translate the same at a larger size, and color is also perceived differently when scaled up. So I’m in the middle of that right now. I am also hoping to have the chance to try my hand at a more complex comic narrative… a graphic novel-type volume. I’d also like to get in better shape physically!