Shooting the Breeze with Ryan de la Hoz

I first met Ryan De La Hoz while curating an art show in Hollywood — at a gallery I built for $200 in a random dude's storage space. At the time, Ryan was going to art school and ditching class, so he could make art. This was both my first time curating an art show and Ryan's debut as an artist. Ten years later, Ryan's unique artistic style has evolved to incorporate paper cut outs, puzzles, marble, minibasketball hoops, fake rocks and everything else under the sun. He has garnered respect from the art world and has invested time in creating Cool Try: one of my favorite brands of tees and art objects. I was fortunate to catch up with him as he was installing his latest solo show at Mishka’s art gallery on La Brea
KN: Hey man, it's been a long time since your first art show. Can you explain what kind of art you were doing when you first started and how it has evolved? 

RDH: Ten years in fact! Essentially my work was figurative and sort of fantastical. It definitely evolved very slowly over time so nothing shifted forcefully. I think that all has to do with simply growing up and experiencing things. If your work is a reflection of you it is bound to change over time.

KN: When I met you, you were at art school in San Francisco. What was that experience like?

RDH: I went to art school for one semester. I majored in Illustration and it didn't take long to realize that it was not for me. For one thing, I am no illustrator. In my mind I can hardly draw. I also realized early on that I just didn't need the art school experience to make the things that were popping into my head so why spend the money? The best thing about art school is that it got me out of the suburbs and into the city. I’ve been here in San Francisco for about nine and a half years.

KN: Your works seems to be really inspired by your childhood.

RDH: I tend to try and keep a somewhat innocent, overly optimistic stance on life and I think that connection to childhood makes its way into my current inspirations without me giving it much thought. It just happens. I moved to the Bay Area when I was 3 years old. I grew up in Fairfield, CA, which is half way between San Francisco and Sacramento. I lived across the street from a creek so I have distinct memories of building tree houses and dirt bike tracks and watching too much Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A typical 80's suburban upbringing I'm sure. Living near two major cities really jump-started something in me once I got my license. As soon as I found out there were "young" musicians and artists making things that I could relate to, my life became all about skateboarding and making art.
KN: I see a lot of references to movies, music, and pop culture in your work. What is their significance to you? 

RDH: In my efforts to analyze our current state of affairs I tend to lean towards relics of the past and current pop culture to try and frame the times. I think that pop culture helps me grasp where our society is so I can convey a serious message in an easily digestible way. An example would be the rainbow tie-dye motif that reoccurs in my work. It was born out of a counter-cultural movement in the 60's that had a very serious undercurrent (Vietnam War) of real emotions from young people that needed to be addressed despite conservatives writing the movement off as a nuisance from lazy freeloading "hippies". This motif is now considered kitschy or even recently trendy. It's important for me to remember the importance of dissent in our culture. Society eventually needs a wave of young radicals to change things for the better. The punk/hardcore scene, which rose from a stagnant late 70’s period and Reagan politics, is similar to this.

KN: You use many different types of materials and techniques in your art practice. How did you evolve into making mixed media art?

RDH: It was always something I was interested in but I had a self-made wall built up that told me I could not deviate from my determined medium. There was a period where I was making paper cut work exclusively for about five years and I was afraid of incorporating more ways of making things into my practice. It was a slow and natural occurrence but I started to strip away my fears of change and embrace my vision. That attitude prevails today and I simply make things the way I want when I want. It shouldn't be more complicated than that!

KN: I love the way you are able to transform a previously functional commercial product into a material for your practice — for instance turning your collages into puzzles. There is a freedom that you seem to have with the mixing of consumer products with your fine art. Can you explain where you were first introduced to these ideas? 

RDH: The puzzles began as another way of looking at image manipulation rather than directly thinking about consumer products. I do not know how to manipulate things with a computer and all my tweaks are done by hand. I started thinking about how puzzle pieces can be removed and repositioned especially if the puzzles were identical in their shapes. Nowadays there has been an increased presence of consumer products in the work and I think that grew out of my excavation of current culture and my clothing / houseware brand, "Cool Try", that I have been working on for almost six years now. It ultimately comes down to doing whatever I need to do to get my idea across the best I feel I can. 
KN: Can you talk to us about "Cool Try"? What’s the concept behind it? 

RDH: The concept behind the brand started as somewhat of a homage to mall kiosks that I encountered in the suburbs where you could get large photo graphics printed in rectangles on shirts, mugs and even made into plastic cut out sculptures of you and your family in matching outfits (hopefully). I have a pretty big button with my giant face on it and it says "I LOVE YOU POP-POP" from that era. I must have been 8 and my "Pop-Pop" is my Grandfather. It is now stuck into the wall over my desk where I work. The overarching theme being that none of these designs are particularly polished and do not have a graphic design look to them. "Cool Try" is a positive state of mind, an inside joke, and if you want in you're in!

KN: This idea of consumer products and art has always been a bit taboo. I have always loved artists who release products or some type of broadcast because I think communicating creativity is the most important thing — it's beginning to look like an evolution from DIY culture.

RDH: I think technology has a lot to do with how people can produce essentially whatever they want. The more technology progresses the more production gets streamlined and it becomes affordable. So yes, if DIY culture started when people realized they could release music and zines themselves then it has evolved into more products. Another aspect is the fact that as a child from the 80's I was lucky enough to grow up in the wake of this DIY/Punk/Skateboarding thing and some of it is as simple as the fact that I started making shirts because of my love for graphic skate tees of my youth. Skateboarding is a huge component of the way I think in that it introduces you to an entire new way of looking at the world and architecture not to mention the fact that the design sensibilities mirrored the people involved so they were bold and original. I've really made an effort to not think about any taboos when considering making anything. I figure I should make whatever I want when I feel like it. 

KN: What defines an artist and a designer in your eyes?

RDH: I don't come from an academic background and I think that creativity is something that is inherent. So to me, an artist/designer is someone who makes things. It's as simple as that. Less talk - more make.

Native Tongue

These articles are official documents of the Department of New Thoughts. The Native Tongue is part of the continuing study of lite on Earth. The galaxy speaks and we jot it all down for all the Explorers, all the Folk and all the Feet of the world to consume. Free for all minds—wander into the wonderful.