Interview by Jenkin Au & Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen
Photography by Jenkin Au
Toronto based artist and graffiti artist Allan Ryan, a.k.a. “UB5000,” is an advocate of the “learning by doing” school of thought. If you are stimulated by sitting in a classroom and drawing what you are told to draw, then by all means, do that. However, Allan believes that experimentation will help an artist progress in how they express themselves better than following the rules of others, and credits actually doing graffiti by scaling buildings and running around under the cover of night to paint on buildings as a great way to learn how to be an artist. A student of both institutionally taught and self taught art, Allan prefers the former style of learning simply because he was just bored to death of art school. While art school helped hone his fundamental skills, his progression as an artist and his ability to express himself artistically were skills learnt best with real world experiences. In this interview, Allan tells justalilhype! about his life as an artist, his sketchbook of ideas, and traveling is an integral learning tool to an artist’s artistic progression. Keep your eyes out and you may see an intricate animal themed mural in a neighbourhood near you, courtesy of UB5000.
Can you tell us about yourself?
Hey, my name is Allan Ryan and I live in downtown Toronto. I write “uber”. My alias is UB5000 because “uber” was taken on the internet. I paint a lot of little chickens and birds and stuff. People seem to like them so I paint them. I chose the number 5000 for my alias because $5,000 is how much money I want to make every day. It’s true. I am not currently at that rate, but it’s where I want to be.
Tell us about the sketchbook and things that you sketch. Do you use the sketchbook to lay down the foundation for future projects or is it just an outlet for artistic expression?
I carry it around with me because it is a good, portable book. It’s been through a lot of abuse. I have had to glue pages back together. Writing or drawing in the sketchbook gives me something to do with my time while I am waiting around at all times during a day. It gives me something productive to do with my time. The more things you draw, the more things that you draw out of your mind, and the more things you can take from life, the better you will be able to create something. If you sit there drawing 300 bicycles, you may be able to design a unique bicycle later on. I am collecting things that I can draw from my memory later on. The sketchbook doesn’t have any commercial application. It’s just stuff going on through my head that I want to put down on paper.
Looking at your artwork, especially your skylines and bridges, you are a talented artist. Not only do you work in different mediums but you can differentiate styles and tones as well. Has this ever been a restriction for you when you try to show your identity as an artist?
I am not trying to tell people what my identity is through my art. I am not trying to make my art all about me. It’s about little cute chickens! A lot of the drawings that I do in my book are more personal things that I do for myself. I have like eight books but I have only put one on the internet. I guess it’s never been an issue for me, saying, “ok, you all need to know who I am inside!” I mean, who knows who they really are? You need to be in touch with yourself before you can tell others about yourself.
Throughout your youth, you have been in arguments regarding art with your peers and teachers, it’s happened a few times. Tell us about how your rebellious nature developed the direction of your art while growing up.
I think when you refuse to take things at face value you get a better idea about the inner workings of the things in question and you understand it better. When you don’t know how to paint graffiti, and you learn, you learn by examining parts of graffiti and you learn how to put it all together. If people tell you to draw one way and you question that, even if you screw up, at least you tried to go down an original path. Being a little bit rebellious makes you a better artist because since you don’t follow a formula, you are truly expressing yourself.
What do you think are the major differences between institutionally taught and self taught art?
Well, I have seen both sides of the coin. All the graffiti stuff I did was self motivated. I learned from my friends by painting with them. And then I went to art school. There, teachers are like, “Go get your 18 X 24 piece of paper, get charcoal, and draw these pots!” And I will be sitting in art school, super board, looking out the window, and wishing that I was out there. I was super bored in art school. When you are sitting in a room drawing a pot, all you have to think about is the pot. When you are outside, you have to worry about the environment, like falling off of a building or getting arrested. I know many ballsy graffiti writers who can’t draw a pot. They don’t care about drawing pots. On the other hand, I know great artists who could never run around at night and paint on buildings. Everyone is doing their own thing and doing what they like to do. So, to me, the difference between institutional and self-taught art is simply the question of, “What’s right for you?”
You have been traveling around Canada. What have you learned from your travels?
Vancouver was really the first city that I spent any time in that had a graffiti scene. When I lived in Halifax, there were six or seven guys at any given time who were really doing graffiti. But those guys taught me a lot. They showed me how to paint, how to be careful around heavy machinery, how to not get killed, and they encouraged me to travel. But when I went to Vancouver, I spent time with Yesca, who had also spent time in Halifax. He went to art school too and he was doing comic book type drawings. He inspired me to take my painting further than just doing letters. By the time I returned to Halifax I had collected all this knowledge that helped me to paint big murals. I wanted to be better so I went to art school.
With graffiti becoming more and more mainstream, where do you think graffiti will go to retain its raw and underground nature?
Bombing and tagging are cool. Kids experiencing this will change how they see public space. I don’t necessarily like the bombing and tagging that I see because it sucks, but on the other hand, I did the same ugly, illegible, dripping vandalism stuff at one point in my life. I like to think that that is the raw underground stuff. Kids are going around, sneaking around, evading arrest, but it doesn’t make you a superstar. The mentality of these kids is, “I am a superstar.” But anyone can put up 100 tags under the cover of night. It does not necessarily make you a superstar.
What advice do you have for up and coming artists?
Do your best. Keep learning. You can never know “enough.” The point is to keep on doing new things and try out new stuff. Practice too. Practice drawing every day. If you can’t draw something on paper, you are probably going to have a hard time doing it on a wall. Make a plan to improve, stick with it, and you will see results.
What is HYPE?
HYPE is people being excited about stuff, for one reason or another, to the point where they make the effort to find out more about it for themselves.