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work of art

Work of Art Exit Interview: Episode Seven

"This was like 'Rush! Rush! Make work now!' They’re forcing inspiration upon you."

In the end it was the affable hipster Ryan Shultz who got the axe. And given that he’s one of the funnier, more likable artists of the bunch, it was sad to see him go. In the wake of his elimination, Shultz chatted with us about time constraints, trash-talking, the appeal of The Real World and why he is a “painter’s painter.”

As a realist painter, your work takes a lot of time and a lot of layers. I’m guessing you struggled with the fact that these challenges weren’t conducive to that at all.
I think I can honestly say, and I think most people would agree with me, that I was the least advantaged artist in the competition. I really had no idea how long we would have per challenge. I will spend twenty hours before I even pick up a brush. And usually I’ll spend several weeks just sketching and drawing and throwing around ideas, too. When you’re under the time crunch it can be really hard to figure out ideas. We’d have about five or ten minutes to come up with our idea.

That’s insane!
Yeah! So you have an idea, you get to the store, you get your supplies, you come back to studio, you drink some coffee and you’re finally awake, and then you’re like, Oh my God, my idea is so dumb, what I do? Then you have to figure out how to use those materials to make something that will still work. So … yeah. I was always disadvantaged. A lot of the artists that they had were very interdisciplinary — they were sculptors and painters and they had backgrounds in a lot of different things — whereas I’m very much a painter’s painter. Paint is really the only medium I work in and it’s oil, and I spend between 300 and 1,500 hours on a painting, generally.

When you signed on, what did you expect these challenges would be? Did you anticipate time crunch?
Actually, I was assuming that it would take longer than it did. I was assuming that they would give us more time than, say, Project Runway, or some of the other similarly styled shows. So I really was not mentally prepared to do this sort of thing. I thought we’d have maybe three days to work on an assignment. I’m dumb, too — I probably could have asked them. They kept us in the dark, really, to a great extent, but I bet they would have given us a rough idea if we had asked. But I was under the impression that we could work all night and not sleep because that’s the kind of artist I am — if I have to make work really fast, I’ll just not sleep for three days. But with the clock … once it was midnight we were done and the following day we only had an hour or two to complete the work and my oil paint still isn’t dry! So it’s hard to layer; it’s hard to fine-tune it.

Did you anticipate these kinds of thematic challenges?
I was kind expecting they would have a theme: do a piece that has to do with love or with some big sort of broad theme and you, as an artist, using your materials, would make that type of work. I didn’t think they would actually make us do sculpture in a challenge — that was crazy! Or that they would make us use found objects. So I really wasn’t anticipating that at all.

But you did super well with that public-art installation! Managing the carpentry and whatnot. You had mentioned your dad was a carpenter — was he proud?
Yeah! He called immediately thereafter and said congratulations. I really pulled that together and it’s weird. I’ve worked with saws before, [but] I don’t really know how to use power tools — I’m not like Miles. So I had to kind of learn on the go. And the other teammates really didn’t know how to build the thing. I left for an interview one time, came back, and they had started it and the thing was all wobbly. That’s when I took sort of leadership in terms of the actually structuring, engineering of the piece.

Did that inspire you at all to bring sculpture into your own practice?
Now? No, never. [Laughs.] Everything I made on the show I would have never made outside of the show. I’m still very much committed to painting.

So … your laugh. There was the whole montage, everyone was imitating it … was it really that big of a “thing?”
Oh my God … I kind of had an inkling that they would do some sort of montage of my laugh because people kept telling me, “Yeah, when we were in our interviews they kept asking us to imitate your laugh! And I can’t do it and blah, blah, blah.” So I was like, Oh great, they’re probably going to do some montage of me as this cracked-out artist … But I had no idea what this whole thing was going to be like. I just arrived and it was just mind-blowing what we had to do and the time limitations and the material limitations. It was disheartening and depressing and stressful and the only thing I could do in a situation like that is laugh. I just had to laugh because it was so ridiculous; it was so crazy.

Any regrets about going on the show?
Had I seen a previous season of it, my approach would have been way different. I would have been prepared — I would have learned how to build these different things and learned how to use all these different materials. My first painting was one of the worst things I’d ever seen in my life and I made that, you know?! The whole conception of it from the beginning was wrong. They gave us three minutes to interview the person we were paired with [and supposed to make a portrait of]. And Abdi did not come off as Abdi is. At that point we were all kind of weirded out and getting to know each other. And Abdi was, like, really quiet, really humble, and I said, "What do you like to do?" And he said, “Oh, you know, read the Bible. I go to church and I paint.” I was like, "So … what else do you do?" He didn’t come off as the excitable, energetic type of person that he is. No offense to Abdi, but he came off as kind of boring. And the painting kind of makes sense given my impression of him initially. I would have loved to be paired with Nao, or someone like that. Someone who is so out there.

Did you take anything from the crits with the judges?
The thing is, I don't make any work like I made on the show. I never made one thing there that I was actually that invested in, expect maybe the tranny-porn-star piece; I thought that one was pretty good! [Laughs.] But I make very different work than the type of work those judges are looking for. They were looking for a more conceptual approach. Had I been making the kind of work that I normally make, I probably would have gotten more out of it.

Are you still in touch with the other artists?
Oh yeah. I get texts and calls from Mark and Eric all the time. I communicate with the majority of the contestants. We talk on Facebook and I’m going to New York next week, so I might see a few of them. I’m on good terms with Nicole even though I trash-talked her pseudo-boyfriend.

Yeah — what was up with all the Miles hating?
They put a lot of that in there. I’m not really a trash-talker, but at that point I was just so furious at the kid just because he was rude. He was, like, really rude. And they didn’t always show that — they showed “Sweet Miles,” but he could be pretty mean to other people.

The drama, the potential hook-ups ... even on the “competition-based” reality shows, it somehow always starts resembling The Real World.
The Real World? I would have loved to have done that! On The Real World you just hang out! There are no time restrictions, you can do anything! You walk around in a million-dollar flat and eat food and talk to people — that would have been awesome! I would have loved that! This was like “Rush! Rush! Make work now!” They’re forcing inspiration upon you. And that’s a weird thing for me. I thought at the most they would just give us themes instead of being like, “You must be inspired by Abdi! You must be inspired by Audi!” That’s a weird sort of situation to be in.