Interviewed by Cass Dickenson
ABOUT: Ryder Richards was born in 1977 and raised in Roswell, New Mexico. He currently lives and works in the Dallas area as an artist, writer, and occasional curator. He earned a BFA in Painting with a minor in Architecture from Texas Tech University and a MFA from Texas Christian University. He is the co-founder of the RJP Nomadic Gallery, The Art Foundation, and Culture Laboratory Collective. He is also the founder of EUTOPIA: Contemporary Art Review (2014-2020), wrote a series of essays titled “The Will to DIY,” and in 2020 launched “let’s THiNK about it” podcast. Ryder has participated in many national and international exhibitions and art residencies and continues to examine power structures and social/political interactions to consider bias.
Cass: Why don’t you introduce yourself?
Ryder: I grew up in New Mexico and have spent most of my life in Texas, and have been up until recently living in the Dallas area. I’ve taught college before but lately, I have been working a corporate job, which has really changed my outlook on a lot of things regarding art and culture.
C: What are you interested in with your work?
R: Earlier, in my career, I was really interested in romance and violence and how those two become inseparable. And that has later led into things about concerns with power, concerns with institutional critique. So how architecture has embedded violence within it. So in that range, there’s also the civilian rebuttal to both responses, which I’m quite interested in. Recently, I’ve started leaning into a Home Depot aesthetic–embracing the materials I can access, what I can easily buy. It’s a little bit DIY, though I’m still reliant on a system because I have to drive on the roads to get to that Home Depot. Through that there’s this strange sense of empowerment through spending money. What I can build on my own is a form of empowerment. So it’s these kinds of small victories. But I think it sets up a paradigm that can allow people to experience something themself instead of being completely reliant on a system.
C: So you see yourself as a small winner.
R: The small wins, yeah. I’m a big fan of the small wins and these processes refer to the small wins. When you’re looking at the big ideas of success and winning, you have to wonder how those broad goals get put in your mind. Like, why do you want the things that you want? So all of these things are shown to us, and they’re easily commodified for us to consume. And so we tend to get competitive around these ideas and notions that are floating around. And yet, there’s a whole other series of ideas and notions that are out there that we could be chasing, or pursuing that might actually have better odds of success. And a lot of this is because we sort of get trapped into where our attention goes and what is fed to us. So I’m really interested in sort of finding ways to break this cycle of how we attend to our own attention.
And that’s where a lot of my work goes trying to question these things and tease those boundaries. Those deformations happen to individuals within a system.
C: You work with these drawings of sport objects, but it’s really a reflection of us. There’s a very personal focus, and the bird’s eye view of society is put in the background of that.
R: It’s how an individual navigates within these systems and within these spaces. There’s an idea called “artificial negativity,” where every form of resistance people can make is commodified by capitalism so that it can better control us in the future. I started realizing that all my efforts would be futile if I was in this cybernetic control system that’s self-balancing. Well, then, if that’s the case, then the individual is all that’s left as a malleable component. And if we’re all programmed at some point, how do you deprogram yourself so that you can actually desire and value different things?
The art features all these sorts of beat-up objects that I’ve been drawing lately–these sports balls or found objects that I collected during the pandemic. I have these discarded sports objects that, usually, kids had thrown out into a creek bed or a drainage ditch. I’d bring them back home, and start trying to build works to sort of protect them and shield them and give them a different type of life. It’s a little bit romantic, but it also sort of deals with childhood in general, a throwing away of dreams.
C: I imagine a reliquary for these objects, you’re giving them the gravity of the fingernail of Christ.
R: Yeah, exactly. It’s like I’m saying “this is the pinky bone and you touch it”. There was energy given to them (these objects) at some point. And even after their obvious life is gone, you still have this object, and there’s the embedded energies and hopes and dreams that we put into them. Are they still there? In some sense, right? Like if you touch the bone of John the Baptist, it doesn’t actually heal your wounds or your illness, but treating these objects as relics hides that an object becomes sacred once you create that space around it. But then doesn’t that sacredness bleed back into you? And can that be healing?
C: So this work is new, right? What kinds of artistic turns are you coming into right now?
R: This work started in January, so it’s very new. I started collecting sports balls over the past year but didn’t know what to do with them. I’m still feeling my way through what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to intellectually map out the process, but letting it come to me almost as if I’m sticking out an antenna or a conduit, looking for something else. Letting those movements come into me and actually heeding them and paying attention to them, rather than mapping out what would be successful according to sort of “market forces” or intellectual academic circles.
C: How are you using this residency to take advantage of this new artistic trajectory you’re making for yourself?
R: This is my second time coming to Stove Works. The first time was during the pandemic and pulled me out of a very dark space that I was in during that time, from isolating and then being able to have community. This second residency stay is like a resurgence of that feeling. I’m in the midst of moving. I’m in the midst of figuring out a lot of things, and the time and space to create work and yet also be around a group of compassionate and empathetic individuals is this really an insane gift. I’m able to come in and out of solitude repeatedly, which wasn’t something that I was usually able to have, at least during lockdowns. Coming to a space like this, and having the ability to practice a process, and yet also getting the social aspect is just sort of a rare and fabulous thing. It’s nourished me as an artist and individual.
C: Is there anything with you looking forward to that we can expect from you in the foreseeable future?
R: I’m going to be traveling a lot. So I think maybe I’m going to spend some time in Mexico–brush up on the old Spanish, you know, little things like that. I have a couple of shows coming up. One out in Roswell, New Mexico, we’ve got another one in Missouri State, and another one in Fort Worth, Texas. Thanks to this space, I’ve been able to plan work for those.