Visual Vernacular: Artist Ron Ulicny
A combination of careful craftsmanship along with woodworking techniques and fabrication, Ron Ulicny has installed a show that is quite monumental while bringing an imaginative take as a surrealist sculptor. All materials in this exhibition have been carefully selected, skillfully crafted, masterfully altered, and presented with passion. Ulicny’s imaginative hand shines through the pieces and shows 20-plus years of skill through a gorgeous spectrum of materials. Knowing all the processes and what he has accomplished, his pieces in some regards may look simple, but to achieve what he has in visual art is amazing in its own right. The cuts and combinations of the materials are so carefully planned out and assembled to make a beautiful and broad visual statement, one that is at the caliber of the heavy hitters in contemporary sculpture.
“I found his work in 2013 while researching artists for a thematic group exhibition I curated called The Enduring Skull, and included his sculpture, ‘Skull of Sarah Winchester’,” states Cindy Lisica of Cindy Lisica Gallery, which is hosting Ulicny’s upcoming exhibition, Xylotheque. “Ron also made a new limited edition piece, ‘Paint Can,’ specifically for the show. I wrote and produced an exhibition catalog, which featured the five selected contemporary artists, intermixed with George Grosz, Andy Warhol, and Damien Hirst. I was drawn to Ron’s artwork from the start, so we have continued the conversation. Not long after the initial connection, we both were in transition, as I was moving to Houston from Pittsburgh and opening another gallery, and he was moving to LA from Portland and setting up a new studio. So, essentially we have been planning this solo exhibition for nearly three years. He’s an incredibly talented artist and hard worker, and full of surprises, so it’s exciting to see this all-new body of work transform the gallery space.”
While installing these titan treasures, including one piece that is a massive slab of a tree, Ron Ulicny took the time to answer some questions about his background and what the show title reveals about the exhibition as a whole.
Free Press Houston: What was your experience with art like growing up? Your collegiate studies?
Ron Ulicny: Art is the one thing I have done consistently my whole life since I was a very young kid. I don’t really remember a time I wasn’t creating something. When I was little, I use to play with Legos constantly, I built model planes and cars. I was forever alone in my bedroom, sitting at my desk drawing or painting. My parents noticed my penchant for art at a young age and enrolled me in art lessons and then later classes. We were also lucky enough to have a photography program and darkroom at my high school. It opened a whole new world to me beyond paper and canvas. My junior year of high school, I got accepted and attended the Pennsylvania Governors School For The Arts, which was a unique program for high school students in Pennsylvania.
It was put on and paid for by the state to live at a college for the summer and study art from working and practicing real world “artists.” So this was the first time where I was surrounded completely by artists of all mediums, from all walks of life. It played a major role in me becoming an artist today. I later went to Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia where I actually majored in graphic design and photography. Tyler was a really great school, I learned a lot as far as different kinds of art, techniques and skills, but I feel I grew more as a person there than I did as an artist. Oh, I was also slightly distracted by writing graffiti and tattooing during this youthful period of growth.
Ron Ulicny, “Sleepers”
FPH: In visual art, there is a plethora of materials to use to convey your concept. What type of materials have you worked with over the years and what made you choose those particular ones?
Ulicny: Well, I will use almost anything — and have — if it is appropriate and fits within the the work. I try not to set any limits for myself or my work. My worst nightmare is being forced to use the same “thing” over and over again. Monotony is not your friend.
FPH: The exhibition title is one of great interest to me. Please tell me about how you selected it and what it means to the pieces in this show:
Ulicny: A “Xylotheque” is a collection of wood it comes from the Greek word xylon which means “wood” and “Theque,” which means “repository.” It is more or less like a library of wood samples, all unique and individual. I actually just happened to have stumbled upon the word one day reading an article about the Samuel James Record Collection, the largest “Xylotheque” in the world with over 60,000 plus samples of wood. I felt it fit the scope of my new work perfectly and like it was somehow meant to be the title all along. For this particular exhibition, I wanted to use a wide variety of wood, as well as utilize said wood in a wide variety of ways. It’s like each piece is it’s own little sample.
FPH: You have spent a significant amount of time in both LA and Portland. Seeing that the artistic topography and people in the city are quite different, what are some of the experiences that you absorbed as an artist and perhaps then transferred to your work?
Ulicny: Yeah, I would have to say my time in Portland influenced and shaped my work way more than any of the years I spent in LA. To be quite frank, Los Angeles is a terrible place filled with soulless self-absorbed twits in my humble opinion. I spent 13-plus years there the first time and have been back for the last year and a half. I have always had a love/hate relationship with that town. When I was in Portland though, just that change of environment was like a whole new beginning. I grew more as an artist and as a man in PDX than anywhere. People say “hello” there and are generally very pleasant. It’s laid back and no one really has any significant amount of money so the stench of wealth doesn’t permeate the air like it does in LA. PDX helped me to shed the “jaded” skin I had developed from all those years in LA and just really motivated and focused me. Environment alone will have a dramatic effect and affect on one’s creativity.
“Xylotheque” opens Friday, June 15 from 6 to 8:30 pm at Cindy Lisica Gallery(4411 Montrose). The show runs through September 2.