Artists Ryan & Ayla on Skin, Film Photos, and Funk

“I have been a goon, I’ve been acquainted with scumbags, I have been low and I have crawled out of it. I am a romantic, cigarette-smoking, coffee, gin, and tattoo-loving emotional sweetheart asshole.”

I sat down with Ryan and Ayla, an artist couple here at UIUC. We talked about their interests in tattooing and photography, as well as personal projects. I loved the honesty and humor they brought while talking about their work.

Let’s start with your interest in stick-and-pokes, when did you first pick up this medium?

Ryan: Ayla and I have been interested in hand-poking for about a year or so but didn’t have the funds or the time until the first quarantine began. We have mainly decorated ourselves with little ornaments and for some close friends.

Ayla: This is a nod to 14-year-old Ayla who needed to have a shitty pine tree on my rib cage to solidify my legitimacy as punk rock. Since then, I have obsessed over the nature of collecting tattoos, but I didn’t pick the medium up again—or even get tattooed—until we were in quarantine. I now have 11 tattoos, oops. 

Photo: Ayla

Why was it attractive to you as a medium?

Ryan: For me, it was because it seems a bit more human in a way; less intimidating, a little more personal than if I were to be blasting my own skin or someone else’s with a gun. I grew up drawing and painting, and I think hand poking translated best in terms of tattooing.

Ayla: I really don’t have a deep, existential rocking answer to this, but I guess the intimacy aspect and the riskiness that hold hands really appeals to me.

I’ve seen your photography. What does the documentation style of the medium mean to you?

Ryan: It is very personal; I feel like film just has emotion within the chemicals. Like hand-poking, it is more human to me. It has the ability to slap you with nostalgia just knowing that it’s a film photo in a lot of cases. I love the physicality of it as well [negatives] and the scratches and dust, although I am trying to be neater with that now to show my negatives a bit more respect. My tag has been “Wornout” for some time now, and I think it translates well into my work, specifically in my film photography.

Ayla: Film is so undoubtedly permanent, and life isn’t—the stability.

Photo: Ryan & Ayla

When was the first time you picked up a camera, and how has that relationship changed to now?

Ryan: The first time was around 2017-2018, I was just using disposable point and shoots for a long time. I wasn’t taking it very seriously at all; it was just for the sake of documentation. I got a real, fully manual film camera when I transferred here to U of I in 2019, and now my relationship with my cameras and this medium have definitely changed. I think my goal now with film is to not just document my own life but also the typical mundane in a beautiful or dissonant way, and everyday interesting characters. It has helped me dive deeper into the act of appreciating the little things in life because if you sit around and wait for big things/events to entertain you, you will never be happy.

Ayla: The relationship that I have with photography feels like it is constantly changing. In the beginning years, there was the push to create something that was textbook-definition beautiful to look at and easy to digest. As of recently, I believe it has to do with getting older, feeling nostalgic, and this impendable doom that this pandemic has brought. I feel myself drifting to just wanting to document the simplicities of the world around me, the commonly overlooked—the underappreciated, tangible memories that will keep me feeling linked and my feet on the ground. I’m sure it will change next month. 

Photo: Ryan & Ayla

What’s your favorite medium and why?

Ryan: I think film photography and painting are at a tie. Film allows me to capture real things in a realistic way, and it allows me to manipulate life in a surreal/dissonant way, which is beautiful. I could also say the same thing about painting as well, but the painting also has so many different layers which is extremely rewarding. It feels like you actually put your soul into every stroke—as corny as that sounds, it just takes so much attention, time, and emotion.

Ayla: It changes every week! I just started, but I have found myself really into linoleum printmaking. Out of every medium that I have done so far, I feel like I truly lose myself when I’m carving the blocks; nothing else exists in that moment. That’s love, right?

How does your personal history show in your work (all mediums)?

Ryan: I have been a goon, I’ve been acquainted with scumbags, I have been low and I have crawled out of it. I am a romantic, cigarette-smoking, coffee, gin, and tattoo-loving emotional sweetheart asshole. I feel that my immense love for movies, my love for the mundane, my respect for the broken, and my love and hatred of humans is visible within my work. And if so, then I am happy. I hope people see all of those things.

Ayla: You know, I had to really think about this—and I feel like rather than expressing my personal dealings, I use creativity to forget about them. 

Photo: Ryan & Ayla

Ideal night out?

Ryan: Drinking at house shows and enjoying the music and company! I miss it so much. A Covid-friendly night out would be having a couple of drinks and rollerskating with my girlfriend and grabbing food, or a small get-together with people I trust not to jeopardize my safety.

Ayla: Ah! I haven’t fantasized about normal life like this in so long. The night would be full of roller skating with a GROUP of people, empanadas, and a whole lot of funk. 

How’d y’all meet (if I may ask)? Because I’ve seen a lot y’all in each other’s work.

Ryan: We actually met on tinder, and I basically fell in love within a week because it all just worked so well.

Ayla: Ryan and I met on a lonely Valentine’s Day night.

What is each other’s influence on your work?

Ryan: Ayla has helped me be less pessimistic, a little less jaded, and just to be less of an asshole; I am a friendly one now. I just don’t tolerate bullshit very well. I think it has shown in my work but more so in my workflow.

Ayla: This kid brings out the best in me. Ryan has pushed me to knock down my walls creatively, and that shows indefinitely in my work. Thank you. 

What are some of your current projects?

Ryan: Right now, I am mainly taking photos but also trying to create designs on my own that aren’t my style so I can be a bit more well-rounded. I’m really just trying to figure out my next steps and pinpoint what I want all of this to evolve into.

Ayla: I’m currently working on designing more linoleum blocks for printing, nipple wall mounts that are made out of clay, hopefully turning my digital designs into posters—but my number one project that I’m excited to start is collecting toilet seats and creating tufted covers for them, and then making them mountable.

What do you wish people would ask you more about?

Ryan: I’m not sure honestly, I’m grateful people are interested at all in the first place. Maybe what they think I can do better within certain works or mediums? But that’s not on anyone else, I have to kick my own ass.

Ayla: I wish people would ask me, “Where are we skating at?” 


Ayla’s Outro:

This was so exciting, and I found out how much I hate talking about myself, haha! Thank you Rachael and The Collective for wanting to interview Ryan and I. It has been a dream of mine to become more connected with other artists locally. 

Find them on Instagram at @wornoutchucks and @dumpster.milk.

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