The following is a May 2016 interview that has been updated with new material.
Ryan Lytle recently discussed his sculptural felted projects on exhibit at various venues. We have enjoyed seeing the progression of his work as it relates to works of other artists of influence in museum and interior design contexts. His installation Emergence opened at Linda Matney Gallery on September 10, 2016 as part of the three person exhibit with Christi Harris and Shaun C. Whiteside. See more information at Transmutation at Linda Matney Gallery
LM: What artists have influenced you- what else has influenced you?
RL: I am very influenced by Tim Hawkinson. His DIY style and diverse use of materials really appeals to me. In addition, the works of Henry Moore and Louise Nevelson are always in the back of my mind. Really it depends on what I am working on. For example, when I began working with fiber I became very interested in artist like Nick Cave, Eva Hesse, and Sheila Hicks because of their relation to the medium.
LM: How has your art changed since you started college- What was your practice like prior to attending university?
RL: Before I went to college I would mostly make ink drawing and play around with acrylics. When I decided to go back to school for art I had an instructor named Rebecca Kamen who encouraged me to work in sculpture. At that point I was making wire sculptures and combining mixed media elements. I didn’t know it at the time, but these wire sculptures would ultimately become the basis I use for armatures in almost everything I do now. I remember one of my first validating moments was with one of these sculptures in 2012. The sculpture was called The Nautilus and it was this strange mixed media sculpture. I had used bottle caps for the shell, some gas mask lenses for the eyes, and wrapped wire for the tentacles. It had a couple hundred bottle caps on it and I had decided to hammer four hole in each so I could weave them together, much to the dismay of the other people in my apartment. Anyway, when it was finished I submitted it to this online juried show called the Eco Arts Awards. Although it only made it to the finalist stage, I was contacted by a woman whose name slips my mind about purchasing it. She said she was a representative from The Ripley’s Museum and they wanted it for their collection. At the time I in fact did not believe it and thought that it was one of my friends playing a joke or something. However, after doing some research I was reassured and they did end up buying it. Now whenever I see a Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum I check to see if it is there. Later, I finished my undergrad at Christopher Newport University, and really it was there that I learned a lot of technical skills and began working in series. Everyone in the department was/is really supportive and I received a lot of valuable insight from all of them. I feel like it was during my time here that began to take my work seriously and actively seeking exhibition opportunities. CNU is also where I was introduced to needle felting by Maggie Bowen in a mixed media class. I became interested in exploring fibers in this way and started making fairly large sculptures for the medium.
LM: How do you see your work changing over the next few years?
RL: I plan to keep exploring fiber works, but I hope to incorporate other techniques and mediums into my pieces. I have become increasingly interested in installation art and I have some ideas in progress. I don’t want to reveal too much now, but it should be really interesting. I plan to attend The Maryland Institute of Art in the fall and I’m sure that will influence my work as well. I really just want to take it further.
LM: Comment on your previous felted works.
RL: The first sculptural felted series I made was a collection of taxidermy heads for the Falk Annex Gallery at CNU. It was 15 or so mounts with things like raccoons and possums, I think there was a hammerhead shark in there. It was mostly animals that I thought would be somewhat unusual. I learned a lot about building armatures for felting in the process and was developing a quilted texture on the surface. I sold almost all of them which was pretty vindicating for me. From there, I decided to do sculptural needle felting for my undergraduate thesis. For these I made (mostly) freestanding sculptures. I wanted to make larger and more complex forms and began including other mediums for embellishments, such as casting and ceramics. With this series I also explored the idea of suspending sculptures as another way to present them.
LM: Elaborate on your process and the development of your works.
RL: My process, as I’m sure everyone does, begins with an idea. Sometimes it develops quickly and other times I find myself reflecting on it for long periods of time. After I get it organized in my mind I’ll begin sketching. Once I have an idea of what it needs to look like I build the armature, typically out of wire, and this is the most time consuming stage of development. It is the way I build most of my current work and I would say half of the time spent on each piece is the armature. The next step, in the case of the wool sculptures, is to completely cover the frame with yarn. This process gives the wool something to “bite” into, for larger free-standing pieces I will sometimes stuff the frame with sweaters or knit blankets and scarfs. Once the sculpture is primed it becomes a matter of creating detail and defining the form. The work is done with a single barbed needle that is used to compress the wool into the shapes needed. Each sculpture is poked thousands of times to firmly attach the wool and create depth. It can be a long and tedious process; however, it gives me a lot of time to really think about what I am doing which is cathartic in a way.
LM: How do you see your works fitting into interior design projects. Comment on your work as it relates to works by other artists in the Liz Moore exhibit?
RL: For the Trophies installation at the Liz Moore exhibit I was trying to create something that would invite the viewer to sit within the display. I included the chair and other furniture to mimic the way the works would interact in a residential environment. It is positioned within the space in a way that the viewer would be able to take pictures with it, or at the very least have a place to sit while waiting for the elevator. Because of the nature of the space, I wanted it to feel like it could be part of a home.