A Conscious Nightmare
Confronting darkness through the art of Bockhaus
By Aleyah Solomon
For those familiar with art movements, they may see Bockhaus and immediately think, okay, this artist is influenced by the German BauHaus movement. And they wouldn’t be wrong, per se. Ryan Bock AKA Bockhaus is a German-American artist who wants you to ask yourself those uncomfortable questions. Always looking beyond the surface, he portrays within his artworks, those thoughts one has but never has the courage to speak aloud. In this regard, Bockhaus is staying true to the pioneers of the BauHaus, along with certain stylistic elements that are inspired by this art group, yet the nightmarish imagery is alive in each of his artworks.
After the opening of his latest exhibit, ‘I’m Not Funded By The CIA’ Here & There Magazine connected with Bockhaus to dive into his artist persona and the importance of learning from our history while continuing to question and uncover what isn’t in plain sight.
When we first saw your work, we found ourselves drawn to the contrast of black & white, the clean lines and the overall structure of your work. Can you tell us about your style and how you have grown as an artist?
My style was born from many years of studying historic art movements and observing current art market trends. I’m happy to hear my aesthetic choices have drawn you in because this is always my intention. Once you become aware of my work you will recognize it anywhere and everywhere. My aim is to be instantly recognizable and unique, while avoiding audience expectations and subservience to the current market. My growth reflects a successful balancing act between these aspects as well as branding and anti-branding.
Your name ‘Bockhaus’ is a play on Bauhaus (the German school of art). How has this movement inspired you as an artist?
A peer of mine named Bruno Smith coined the term ‘Bockhaus’ as a tongue in cheek joke in relation to my artwork and social status. Beyond being German myself, I decided to adopt the name because I thought it was funny. I have a great respect and love for the Bauhaus movement. The matrimony of fine art with design and aesthetics into everyday function were radical ideas at the time. It’s a time period I am constantly returning to for inspiration and guidance. I aim to be as radical in my approach to creating artworks in our current moment.
How would you describe your style?
Visually violent. Proto-cubism. A hot mess. All of these have been used to describe my style.
"I am inescapably an American artist and I feel strongly it is my duty to record this great empire crumbling from within."
You never appear in public without your balaclava on. How does this connect with your work? What is the meaning, to you, about concealing your face to the public?
This is part of my anti-branding effort. I satirize what is expected of me as an artist. I’ve been told from the beginning of my career that I need to show my face. That people need to see what I look like in order to relate to me, and that it’s impossible to divorce the artist from the art. So I set myself up to do the exact opposite in an attempt to at first remove myself from what I was creating. I found this to be impossible. The artist and the artwork are too closely related. But this began to work as sort of a social screen and allows me a better read on individuals when I first meet them when they don’t know who I am or what I do. It also allows me the freedom to have some fun. If I'm scheduled to do an interview on camera, for instance, I can now send someone else to do it for me. It's more entertaining for me and keeps the audience on their toes.
Do you feel a sense of ‘freedom’ in keeping your appearance hidden?
What does your process of creating a new concept look like? From the first idea to the making of each piece to the final collection of works.
Each concept arrives differently and requires different tactics in order to achieve fruition. I am a bit like a method actor in this way, making choices artistically to create a particular mindstate. I generally only pursue ideas that refuse to leave my brain. This is a telling sign if an idea is indeed worthwhile or not: if it keeps coming back, maybe it is timeless. From there, I research as much as possible. I gather source material via writing, films and reference images. Then I start to sketch. I am very meticulous and strategic in my planning and I usually draw everything out before starting any final artworks. This is often to keep an original tone consistent throughout the breadth of a body of work. The planning is where I use all my intuition because I am not generally a very intuitive painter. Then I find the right players and/or materials. I spend hundreds upon hundreds of hours sitting, considering, conceptualizing, painting and fine tuning. My practice requires an enormous amount of time. One exhibition can take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years to complete. Sometimes it takes as long as 10 years for one idea to ripen enough to use.
Have you always been drawn to the arts?
Yes, always. I attribute this mostly to my grandmother who is also an artist. I was drawing the minute I could hold something in my hand.
Where did you grow up? Has your background been an inspiration for your work?
I grew up in America. I moved to different states my entire life every 3-5 years. I’ve lived in many major cities in most regions of this country: both coasts, the South and Midwest. I am inescapably an American artist and I feel strongly it is my duty to record this great empire crumbling from within. To showcase the poison this country’s culture has spread around the globe.
What is it you want to get across to your audience with your work?
I want my audience to question their routine experience, to widen their perspective. I want them to question the status quo. I want them to question a reality that has been predetermined and fabricated by a few to control the many. I want people to wake up and find their sympathy and their kindness by forcing them to confront the darkness of their own humanity.
Your bio references your ‘need for narrative structure.’ Tell us a bit more about this.
Narrative structure is inherent in all artistic practices whether we would like to admit it or not. This is a human tendency older than any other. Storytelling is fundamental to human evolution, the forming of social structure, the passing of information, morality, everything. Everything goes back to storytelling. This is unavoidable as an artist and as a human being. We are all telling a story now more than ever with social media.
Your latest exhibit ‘I’m Not Funded by the CIA’ according to your artist statement, connects to the Dadaist theory and movements post-WWI. What was it that drew you towards the Dada movement?
History is cyclical. We are now exactly 100 years after the Dadaists who were flourishing in the early/mid 1920s. Their strong opposition to war, authoritarianism, distrust of the quickness of development and integration of technology, and anti-archaic artistic hierarchy/establishment are all opinions I share with the Dadaists. And they countered all these very real issues armed with nothing but absurdity! That takes real bravery and I admire them for that.