EMU grad Ryan Bogan explores found-object art - and wins $15,000 at it
Livonia-raised Bogan, who continues to live in Ypsilanti now, loves collecting old discarded objects, antiquing, and "Dumpster diving" or “trash picking.” He restores and reuses the materials he scavenges to make carefully crafted art objects such as sculptures and jewelry.
“I’ve always been fascinated by little pieces of random things my entire life. Even as a child, I collected boxes of little pieces that I’d pick up there and here. I’ve always had a lot of collections,” Bogan says.
The artist’s works are full of symbols that have special meaning to him, including a series of three sculptures that use insects to explore his Christian faith. Bogan explains that the bee inside the center of his sculpture “...Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb” is a reference to the Virgin Mary because “it’s a symbol of fertility and purity,” he says. He says he included the honey to be like holy water. In another of these “Insect Reliquaries,” a sculpture he calls “Ultimate Sacrifice,” dead flies impaled on long thin rods are encased in upside down test tubes. The flies symbolize “Jesus’ crucifixion,” Bogan says, “I chose flies because they are born from death and we need them to keep the death away.” The resurrection of Jesus is referenced in another of these art works. “With the cockroach, you think it’s dead and it’s not. They live forever,” he explains.
Works like his pendulum-esque sculpture “Break in Case of Emergency” show the high level of craftsmanship he puts into each of his found-object works. The bits and pieces might have come from the trash—or wherever else Bogan stumbles across them—but his artistic touch restores old junk back into items of worth and value.
Bogan enjoys restoring old objects and furniture, rather than buying new products from stores. He would “rather have something old and well-made than have to go to the department store every few months,” and he worries that we live in a “throw-away culture.” The furniture in his apartment is mostly salvaged items that he has restored—he keeps his eye out for Art Deco and mid-century Danish Modern objects in particular.
One of his favorite things about scavenging for objects is the stories behind them. He got the typewriter off the street when a group of church members were cleaning up the home of one of the congregation who was a hoarder. The typewriter reminded him of his mom’s typewriter, and he found it to be a fitting way to tribute his mom for overcoming disability after she suffered a closed-head injury from a drunk driver in 1967. The finished art work “touches on how one person found their faith (the hoarder) and another had their faith questioned (his mother after the accident),” he explains.
He made another of these necklaces for his aunt Wilma. His aunt lives in the woods of Wisconsin in a simple rustic home she maintains with her late husband Doug. The necklace includes a number of test tubes filled with porcupine quills Wilma collected. “She found a porcupine on the side of the road and plucked out its quills. She’s part Native American and she does a lot of beading and stuff like that. She took the quills and buried the animal instead of just leaving it there to rot,” he says.
The emerging artist is planning to use the $15,000 fellowship money to pay for several art workshops. He is also buying new tools and supplies to build his studio, and he’s keeping an eye out for “old tools, like from the 1700s even,” he says, “because they’re made better. You gotta find the old German and Swiss tools.”
Bogan also hopes to establish an “artists’ network” in Ypsilanti one day. The network could be many things, from a way for artists to trade materials and resources, to a forum that encourages “the formation of friendships and relationships that could lead to all different kinds of collaborations such as doing art shows together,” he says.