Artist: Ryan Standfest
Location: Bai Mai Thai
RS – Hot tea, Tom Yum soup (with chicken), Drunken Noodles (with chicken)
SRS – Hot tea, Be Mee Moo Dang
If you’re ever heading out the door to meet me and find yourself wondering, “Should a bring a grab-bag of small press materials?” the answer is yes. Do this. That’s what Ryan Standfest did – having many samples from his own publishing concern, Rotland Press, and it made my day. Much perusal of delightful pulp pastiche/transgressive comix/etc. to transpire.
This is the second conversation I’ve had with Ryan, recently. He’s an interesting guy, and I can relate to his struggle to balance a professional teaching career, a personal art practice, and a labor-of-love publishing venture. This is a common struggle, The Struggle, one might say. The state of capitalism in America has done a number on the arts and on education; when you are someone who works in both fields, it’s a kind of intersectional financial clusterfuck of dismay.
Ryan is so cheerful, though. He has a very laid back outlook, finding the narrow but fruitful path between constantly trying to bend the world to your own will, and sitting passively by while opportunities go to more proactive people. It is a sweet spot, and hard to find. He’s just come back from an intensive round of interviews for a teaching position, and is confronting hard realities about the landscape in academia. It is not the best time to be a cis white male (although one might argue, it is still a Pretty Good Time for cis white males) – there is an ever-so-slowly changing tide in terms of diversity within institutions, and those that have historically been the ones to benefit from preferential treatment are feeling the nip. Welcome to the party, says women, people of color, people with disabilities, the poor, etc. Ryan accepts these changes with equanimity, at least during our conversation. He’s chipping away, as always, at a sprawling practice that includes the creation of his own performance texts and drawn/written materials–which are a delightful synthesis of MAD Magazine, high-Modernist aesthetics, and mail-order gag catalogs–and helping shepherd the works of others into the world, through publishing and through teaching.
I can’t emphasize how crucial it is to have people who help other people make art. The mainstream art world is full of superstars, giving the impression of standalone achievement and genius. In reality, no one, not one person, produces work in a vacuum. Everyone has a support network, whether it is tireless editors, publishers, promoters, gallerists, collaborators, fabricators–or the partner that lovingly makes you dinner when you’ve gone into a creative fugue and forgotten to feed yourself for 40 hours. The people who show up at openings, every opening, god knows why. Patrons, critics. It’s an ecosystem, and sometimes when we’re looking at the forest, it’s hard to remember that someone is responsible for growing the trees.
Ryan is one of those, and the kindness and warmth that surrounds him suggests that giving is indeed a good form of interacting with the universe. Let’s hope we get to keep him.