Short-Lived Landscapes: 'Mad Homes' + Q&A with Ryan Molenkamp

Installation view, Mad Homes, Seattle. Above: SuttonBeresCuller, The Ties that Bind, Custom polypropylene rachet straps. Image by Bryan Ohno. Below: Exterior view, Ryan Molenkamp, Strain. Image courtesy the artist.

A saran wrapped house resides next to two others that happen to be ratcheted together with red belts, beside the laytex shell of yet another residence.  This block of artist interventions, titled Mad Homes, provides an unassuming side street of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood with a large scale, temporary installation. Unsuspecting motorists and dog-walking neighbors stop to gawk at this visual spectacle conceived by MadArt, a modest, local organization that commissioned eleven emerging Seattle artists to transform four houses slated for demolition into sites for artistic experimentation.   —Erin Langner, Seattle contributor

(left to right) Laura Ward, Skin, Laytex rubber with wood armiture. Julia Haack, Keating’s Foible, Alkyd paint on salvaged wood.

Many of these interventions boldly announce themselves without reserve. Allan Packer’s oversized, black and white wooden objects overtake the interior of one home. Merging drawing, sculpture and animation, a motorized bird, moon and wolf move between walls and floors to such a scale that the otherwise gentle imagery takes on an underlying sense of threat as the objects move into the viewer’s physical space.  Next door, the 12,000-foot red belt of artist trio SuttonBeresCuller’s Ties That Bind physically connects two homes in a forced embrace; this barrage of polypropylene straps continues throughout interior of one residence, creating a jarring, obstacle ridden path for those that enter.

Behind a the row of forthright interventions, a stark black line encircles the fourth home, like a wall’s expanding crack. Initiating Ryan Molenkamp’s comparatively quiet work, Strain, the painted line winds around the residence, across a porch and into a former living room. Becoming increasingly river-like on the house’s interior, there the installation morphs between the two-dimensional painted line and three-dimensional wooden forms to create its nexus.  Constructing a focal point in the living room, a monochromatic, abstracted landscape on canvas much in line with the artist’s recent works in oil and graphite represents the only portion of the installation to be salvaged before the home’s destruction.

I caught up with Ryan to find out more about his process working within this distinct, finite environment and its relationship to the sense of place explored consistently within his recent paintings.

Installation views, Ryan Molenkamp, Strain, Paper, ink, wood and paint. Images courtesy the artist.

EL: Place plays a significant role in the imagery of your landscape works, including Flood (2010) and The San Juans (2008).  How did the context of creating work in a space on the verge of being demolished factor into your process?
Some of the artists in the show made references to the development project and I certainly thought about it during this process.  However, Strain isn’t a direct reference to the destruction and planned building on that property; it is more of a general exploration of structure and place.  I have always been interested in the way we are developing the Seattle region, and with this project, focused more on how the location and what is happening to the property can change the way audiences experience my work.  The combination of this work, in this location, creates a lot more relationships and no doubt leads to more connections between the space, imagery, and the future for that land, more so than if the work were simply installed in a white-walled gallery.

Given the unique circumstances of Mad Homes, did you ever consider making a dramatic break from the your previous work, or was the opportunity more of a seamless fit within your existing practice?
Mad Homes fit pretty seamlessly into my current practice, but I did consider some deviations. One of my recent explorations since Flood has been to create realistic paintings based on photos of development in the region, such as the Denny Regrade, a flat neighborhood whose steep hill was removed as part of a 20th century construction project.  I considered creating some new paintings that would be about that subject, perhaps more Denny Regrade paintings, perhaps more paintings of other historical or big interesting subjects; there is no shortage of interesting projects in this city.  However, I ended up choosing the route of Strain, which would better allow me to approach the space as an installation, to create a space with objects that could be experienced as more than merely images.

Installation view, Ryan Molenkamp, Strain, Paper, ink, wood and paint. Image courtesy the artist.

Your paintings have an interesting tendency to grow beyond the traditional boundaries of the canvas, and the inclusion of three-dimensional elements in this instance took that approach to the next level.  What was the impetus behind your decision to integrate sculpture?
A couple of years ago when I was working on my series of paintings depicting the San Juan Islands, I started wondering how they would look if I added dimension to the images by making islands covered with small, black sculptural shapes.  Somehow, having that thought in the back of my head led to the sudden desire to make the shapes found in Strain jut out from and in front of the wall painting.

What was your approach to working with an entire house as a space for the new work?
I kept my approach for this project very flexible; there were some challenges working with the houses, as we were not entirely sure when tenants were vacating or quite what the spaces looked like until the last minute.  I knew I wanted to do a wall piece with the new sculptures emerging from the wall, but I wasn’t certain how large of a space I’d have to work in, until just about the installation period.  The great part about the space I ended up working in was the opportunity to make a wood sculpture that spans the supports of the porch, framing a view of Seattle and the distant landscape.  I’m grateful I was able to have that spot, and to create work on the exterior of the house- working in a non-gallery setting opens up so many doors with my artistic practice.

Erin Langner
is a writer based in Seattle and is Adult Public Programs Coordinator at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

Recent posts

Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - 15:19
Friday, June 26, 2020 - 13:03
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 14:02
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 14:55
Tuesday, December 17, 2019 - 18:09