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Who Is Ryan Callanan (RYCA)?

Who Is Ryan Callanan (RYCA)?

Juxtaposition is artist Ryan Callanan’s (aka RYCA) calling card. His work features familiar images or concepts and combines them with unrelated ideas. 

From taking hip-hop lyrics and turning them into Victorian pub signs to Guantanamo Bay detainee action figures, nothing is safe. RYCA infuses his English sense of humor into everything. 

But what inspires the artist to crucify stormtroopers and put a turd on the pope? 

Let’s dig in!

About Ryan Callanan

We don’t know much about RYCA’s early life other than that he’s a born and bred Londoner. In his teens, he found his way into art through the work of street artist Eelus. 

Banksy dominated the street art scene at the time with his politically themed stencil work. Eelus’ Star Wars work inspired the nerd in Callanan to create his own work. 

While attending the Barking College Model Making Program in the early 2000s, Ryan planned on a career in technical drawing. But a change in the course of study nudged him in the right direction. 

Instead of another model making course, Callanan took 3D Design, where he started creating art. At first, he made figurines, something he still does. But when the projects got more advanced, he could choose his own subjects. TV, film, song lyrics, and popular culture moved RYCA’s work to the next level. 

Going to the Next Level

After school, he worked for a shop that made pub signs. On-the-job training meant RYCA learned a broad range of printmaking techniques. The first printing project he did for himself sold out. At this point, Ryan Callanan became known as RYCA. 

This first project, Ona Islam, took the iconic Mona Lisa and put her in a burka. Using juxtaposition, the artist tried to make the viewer examine their own prejudices.

With this initial print, RYCA took off. Through printmaking, model making, painting, and other media, he’s risen to the level few pop artists do. A decade after his work became well-known, he joined artist Peter Blake as a Jubliee artist in 2022. 

Forever learning, RYCA continues to refine his techniques and create new work. From smiley faces to candy hearts, Star Wars send-ups to Victorian hip-hop, RYCA keeps pushing the envelope. 

What is RYCA’s Art Style??

RYCA’s style is usually described as modern pop. He uses techniques informed by technology but infuses them with old-world charm. 

After an early career as a pub sign maker, the printmaking techniques he learned continue showing up. He has a series of signs that stick expletives into other words. Absofuckinglutley some of our favorites. 

But he’s also inspired by 1980s rave culture in the UK. Fans in the United States don’t necessarily understand the dark undertones of the melting smiley faces and candy. 

During the height of rave culture in the UK, the government cracked down on what they thought was a subversive element. The yellow and black of the smiley served as a warning of something sinister. LSD drove those early dance parties. 

RYCA has a deep love of the music from that time, and the iconography of the smiley is one of his signatures. 

Did RYCA Install an Exhibit Inside a Church?

In 2018, the art collective Art Below installed an exhibition called Stations of the Cross in St. Stephen Walbrook church in London. In some forms of Christianity, the stations of the cross are a meditative series of walking worshipers through the last days of Jesus Christ. 

For the exhibition, artists reimagined the icons through contemporary art. With his piece, RYCA created a life-size crucified Storm Trooper. 

The controversy didn’t come from the piece itself, however. Parishioners complained that it distracted them from the altar and made it difficult to focus. 

Reverend Jonathan Evans, the priest in charge who approved the exhibition, didn’t remove the piece. Instead, he simply repositioned it so worshipers weren’t distracted. 

Evans felt that the installation provoked essential questions about the nature of salvation. Like C.S. Lewis, RYCA put the idea of Christ into a new universe. 

What is RYCA’s Acid Box?

From his love of Acid House music comes the Acid Box set. RYCA talks in interviews about his years digging through record bins to find that elusive record. 

For his fans, RYCA recreates the experience through this piece. Collaborating with DJ Fatboy Slim, the artist released a box set of six variations on the Acid Smiley. And just for fun, two prints in each box are entirely unique. 

He only created 50 boxes, so for hardcore collectors, these are must-haves. 

What Are Some of RYCA’s Art Pieces?

These are some of the iconic RYCA pieces that define his career. To limit this artist by the styles represented below is a shame. But we can’t talk about all of our favorites because he has so many good ones. 

Ona Islam

Ona Islam is the artist’s take on Mona Lisa. If you unscramble the words of the title, you’ll find the original there as well. And this is a good metaphor for RYCA’s painting. 

At the time he created it, Islamophobia rocked the UK. The image shows Mona Lisa’s eyes peering out from a burka. A single tear rolls down one cheek. RYCA created a powerful statement with his first significant work by reframing the icon and the stereotype. 

Mother and Child

Another piece riffing on a major religion, Mother and Child, reimagines the classic image of Mary and the baby Jesus. RYCA uses his vast knowledge of art production techniques to make a complex image. 

Using foam, 3D modeling, vinyl, and spray paint, the artist created a mutated version of the icon. It doesn’t feel as precious as the original, but this version provokes thought nonetheless.

Acid Flowers

Calling back to Warhol and van Gogh, this print features a vase of sunflowers with Acid Smilies replacing the center of each flower. The screen-printed piece has pop art written all over it. 

Looking closely, you can see it’s all about texture. The texture of the canvas, the drips of the ink, and the twisted smiles come together to form a cohesive painting. With all-white petals, it seems as though the pigment from the sunflowers has seeped out into the surrounding picture. 

Where Can I See RYCA’s Art?

We couldn’t find any current exhibitions of his work, but you can view RYCA’s art all over the internet. From his personal Instagram page to multiple online galleries, you can obtain a piece from RYCA reasonably quickly, for now. 

His work also appears around London, but you’ll have to be savvy to find it. 

A Thought-Provoking Artist

RYCA’s art is at once familiar and wild. The artist is at his best when working with pop and film references. He makes us think, laugh, and question the nature of being. 

His love for technique and the craft of making art shines through in his multimedia pieces. And when things get hard, RYCA wants us to remember to look on the bright side of life. And smile. It’ll all be fine. 

Do you own a piece of RYCA’s art? Let us know about it in the comments below.

Outside Folk Gallery

You can explore more folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans. 

We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!

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