Ryan Foote can genuinely claim the title of a modern contemporary artist. His multi-disciplined approach to creation has positioned him as an innovator in immersive art. Creating beyond the boundaries of single pieces and in the realm of experiential creation.
He mastered Sculpture and Spatial Practices at the Victorian College of the Arts. He went on to produce large scale projects for National Gallery of Victoria, Federation Square Melbourne, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne's GPO Building, Flinders Lane Gallery, to name a few.
Expanding his artistry to sculptural homeware, immersive theatre, and dining experiences, culinary design and now into the chocolate design. A true multi-talented artist focused on creation rather then mastery.
We talked with Foote about his craft, life, and how he carved a path for himself in the contemporary art scene.
N: Firstly, can you explain Ryan L Foote as an artist and what you explore through your folio of work?
RF: There are multiple ideas that I like engaging with and exploring, layering them on top of one another to create saturated workpieces that invite viewers to delve deeper. But if I was too boil it down to the two main elements I am really interested in, they would be immersivity and observation. Immersivity as I enjoy creating an experience beyond just the visual, something that engages every sense and one you have a real relationship with. While through observing, I’m reflecting the changing world around us from people and the clothing they wear to the food and drink we enjoy.
N:What is the one piece of work you are most proud of producing?
RF: One of the biggest and most challenging projects was “The Diamond Lab”, which was a temporary pop-up food art restaurant. Where I created every aspect of the immersive experience from a 14-meter-long sculpted diamond table, hundreds of porcelain diamond inspired plates, an array of recipes, and styled wait staff. Launched in early 2016 and then exhibited as a one-night food art event at the National Gallery of Victoria, this has been by far one of the most challenging and satisfactory projects!
N: You speak highly of sustainability, how is this practice carried out in your daily work?
RF: This has been one of the more challenging elements as my practice has grown, within my artwork I realized it was impossible to be completely sustainable while creating big installations. Instead of stopping my creative practice, I decided firstly, to reduce the amount of waste, and double handling. Secondly, any waste I did create, I started to keep as materials for another body of work, highlighting both the challenges and issues we, as artists, have to start to consider and grapple with.
N: Your event-based projects have been explained as a spectacular multi-sensory experiences, what processes are involved to incorporate the complex layering for each event?
RF: Once I start a concept they tend to take on a life of their own, and start reflecting the world around me. The longer I work on them the more complex their language and dialog becomes. It’s the same way that a story develops and is constantly being rewritten and developed until it is finally released.
N: Can you explain a little more about the event experiences you create, for example, how do participants interact with all the moving parts?
RF: Each event is different, but I tend to layer lots of elements which start off simple and easy to understand. For example, everyone has a relationship with food and drink, so I tend to start there. Building with recipes that are easy to consume, then adding more complex and challenging dishes. While at the same time, the other elements around them build or get revealed the more you look and talk about them. But in no way is everyone required to understand all of the conceptual ideas I am trying to embed into the art event. I like the idea you can delve into the artwork as much as you are comfortable with and take away as much as you put into understanding the experience.
N: Do corporations come to you seeking your artistic skill in event curation and if so, how do you construct a 'work of art' while keeping the client’s needs in mind?
RF: I do get clients wanting me to create concepts for them. I actually find coming up with concepts that both the client and I are happy with, without compromising my creative vision, is reasonably easy. Most of my work is so layered I can incorporate multiple ideas in one event. The most challenging part of creating events for clients is time and budget. Sometimes I get clients wanting a complex custom event within 2 weeks or something crazy like that. They don't understand it's not just a case of me calling up a hire company and renting some chairs and plants.
Sometimes I get clients wanting a complex custom event within 2 weeks or something crazy like that.
N: Moving into 3D chocolate design seems an unlikely transition, however, a genius one at that. How did Chocolate by Ryan Foote come into existence?
RF: Over the years I have been lucky to work with great chefs and then transitioned into creating my own recipes, I particularly like desserts as people tend to accept more outrageous ingredients and presentation. I had always loved chocolate, I’ve loved its playfulness and versatility. I’m always interested in pushing boundaries and bringing classic techniques together with new technologies or looking at things from a different perspective and felt I that could do something different with chocolate. When I started to experiment with the medium I realized there were a number of physical properties and chemistry that mirrored other sculptural materials/techniques I have worked with.
N: In your paper on Trend Culture, you mention the idea of ‘events’ becoming the next step in artistry for contemporary-pop-culture. How do you tackle the commercialization of this form of 'artwork' when in order for it to exist it needs viewer interaction?
RF: I think whatever your form of artwork is tackling, commercialization is always a challenge. But complex expensive art events have even more challenges. I tend to fund the development of most of my own projects. I like to style them as a theatre like model, where I sell tickets to the event. Or, I try to find clients that fit the concept I have created, to sell them the project, as an outright purchase or for them to sponsor the experience. At the end of a project, if I have covered the costs, I put the surplus money into the next event. In more recent years I have setup a few other entities, like my ceramic and chocolate businesses that both help fund my event creations and they also sell products that fund my art projects. This reduces the need to monetize each piece.
N: In the same paper, you also discuss the personal reflection artists must have to trends, but to try not to apply them to their work. When you are working in the realm of Trend Culture are you creating art that is influenced by this or acting on your own inspiration.
RF: It tends to be a bit of both, I feel very strongly as artists, we should be looking at the world around us, reflecting upon it whilst coming up with a new perspective. For example, there is a shifting trend to more environmentally conscious/reflective works in major public institutions or commercial galleries. This is a great trend and something I hope we see more of. When I talk about trends I don't mean only shallow vacuous ones, but the changing world around us.
I feel very strongly as artist, we should be looking at the world around us. Reflecting upon it whilst coming up with a new perspective.
N: You started as a sculptor and have diversified into a number of different mediums. Was this growth a natural progression in curiosity or an exploration into monetizing your skills?
RF: This change could be best described as an evolution. I was always so keen to learn new mediums and techniques to incorporate into my artwork. I can also guarantee, reinventing the wheel every time is not a way to monetize your practice. If I wanted to do that I would have continued making gallery based artworks to hang on the wall.
N: Given you have had a first-hand experience infusing tech with food design, how do you think the future of design will be shaped by technological advancement?
I think we are also naive to think as artist, designers, and chefs are immune from AI impact on our own industries.
RF: There are so many exciting things happening and the rate of change seems to be speeding up so much more. It’s hard to imagine where we will be in 100 years. I am both excited and somewhat worried about ‘big data’, artificial intelligence and the intersection between them. I can imagine a world where I can create new flavour combinations or generate synthetic flavours or even new materials to work with, but I think we are also naive to think as artists, designers, and chefs, that we are immune from the impact technological advancement has on our own industries. Imagine explaining to an artist from 100 years ago that today people walk into Ikea and buy the same artwork as someone on the other side of the world. I’m not saying it’s always good but the world is always changing.
N: You have a certain flair for being an innovator in your field, I don't see too many artists infusing 3D printing with the creation of the geometric chocolate design. Considering this, have you ever explored how the introduction of artificial intelligence may contribute to your work?
RF: Yes, this is something I do plan to do within my chocolate collections, but maybe after a few rounds of human-generated designs, I also need to find the right programmer.
N: Between your consulting, studio work, chocolatier work and event space designing, how do you juggle the various different components of your work into your busy schedule?
RF: I constantly have to jump from one headspace to another, from performing physical tasks in the workshop or studio kitchen, to drawing up concepts, writing emails, quotes and testing recipes, to training new staff. I’m not going to lie, it’s a challenge and hard to keep on top of everything, but life is never boring!
N: What advice would you give to emerging artists tackling the very fast changing climate of the contemporary art world?
RF: Find what you are passionate about and enjoy it, but also realize we are in a world where you need to write proposals, applications, pitches, market yourself, deal with tax, do endless emails, quotes and be a salesperson. You not only need to refine your artistry, but an entire toolkit of skills.
You need to refine more than just your artistry but an entire toolkit of skills.
N: With a number of large-scale projects under your belt and collaborations with a number of reputable brands, you are hitting a high in your career. So, what is the next big mountain to climb for Ryan Foote?
RF: Sustaining it!