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First ‘VAST’ SOU instructor speaks Wednesday

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New York artist Ryan Kitson will talk about his contemporary art and the business of making art from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, in Meese Auditorium in the Art Building at Southern Oregon University. He’ll present a range of work from his contemporary art to the wings he constructed for Victoria’s Secret models to wear for a runway show.

Kitson is skilled in multiple media taking inspiration and direction from found objects, his surroundings. He works in painting, photography, sculpture and ceramics and is committed to exercising art in the broadest sense. Kitson says that the ideas should choose the medium, and that a fixed style or branded medium can get tiresome after a while or go out of fashion.

Kitson’s own work is abstract — beautiful and strange, suggestive of other worlds in the use of objects and materials from this one. The shining chrome rods, fluid shapes and focused use of color in the pieces are brilliant and his titles are revealing and intent, echoing the works.

With a 2001 BFA in sculpture and a minor in art history from Southern Oregon University, Kitson has built a reputation in the competitive New York art world by being flexible and not being tied to one form or artistic medium. Without sacrificing his personal art work, Kitson uses that creative expression and unique perspective in his commercial art work over 17 years in the city.

“I’ve been doing a host of other things like sculpting toys for Nickelodeon; I worked as a toy designer at Nickelodeon. I’ve been doing set design for fashion work over the last decade and the whole time I’ve been doing art.”

The business of art — how to photograph, pack, promote and brand art — is just one of the ideas that Kitson brings to SOU during his VAST appointment. He also brings energy and inspiration and a desire to awaken students to new and startling contemporary art.

Kitson, a Boise, Idaho, native, thought he’d be a high school ceramics teacher, but one semester, SOU guest artist Hugh Pocock changed everything. “Pocock exposed us, showed us slides that blew our mind; we didn’t know it was possible in art. It was him showing us art that was new. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”

Kitson is the first artist to participate in SOU’s new Visiting Artists and Scholars in Teaching (VAST) program established by Creative Arts and the Schneider Museum of Art as part of the Oregon Center for the Arts Creative Industries initiative. Kitson will be on campus for three months making art and working with students.

“Ryan graduated from the SOU Arts Program and we’re excited to have him return to share his life after graduating, engaging with the art capital of the world, New York City,” said Scott Malbaurn, director of the Schneider Museum of Art. “He has been very successful with his work and has exhibited internationally.”

The VAST program isn’t tied to any particular medium and allows the SOU Art program to be flexible and respond to both student and faculty interests. For students, VAST brings in new ideas and perspectives on contemporary art.

“It expands the art community for our students and brings a different energy,” says SOU Art faculty member Robin Stringfellow. “The artists make work in the studio alongside the students and that’s exciting for the students to see; they can have conversations with the artists.”

The inspiration for the VAST program was Maria de Los Angeles’ two-week stay at Southern Oregon University last winter. De Los Angeles studied at Pratt University as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) student and today her art is fully expressive of identity politics and the politics of race and belonging. During her brief visit to Ashland, de Los Angeles was immersed in the campus and in the community, using her art as a means to reach out and engage. De Los Angeles will return to SOU in December as the next VAST faculty appointment for the winter and spring terms.

For more information on the SOU Creative Arts Program and Kitson’s Oct. 10 presentation, call the Schneider Museum of Art at 541-552-6245.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

(Oct. 9: Byline corrected.)

Ryan Kitson looks over his casts, drying in the ceramics studio at Southern Oregon University. (Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella)
Ryan Kitson in front of the huge kilns that bake artwork in the ceramics studio at Southern Oregon University. (Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella)