A Football Player-Turned-Artist Takes a Shot at the Art World

Ryan McCann has a unique perspective on fame and cosmic circumstance. A former professional football player, he had a spectacular rise and fall—from a college star who was profiled in Sports Illustrated and selected to be a free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals to a career-ending injury suffered during his first week of training. He has since harnessed that energy and become a practicing artist, launching a career on the international art scene and producing work that sardonically riffs on modern ironies, consumerism, and pop culture identities. In a new series of paintings entitled “Death To…,” recently unveiled at Guy Hepner Gallery in West Hollywood, McCann fixes his unwavering gaze on the stars of the art world.

Earlier this year, McCann created a print titled Death to Banksy with art edition company 1xRun, in which Banksy lies dead, shot by a banker figure wearing a happy-face mask; its popularity prompted the new “Death to...” series. Each painting in the group depicts the untimely death of a major art-world figure in a slapstick situation of their own art gone wrong. Jeff Koons is drowned in his installation Two-Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (1985) by a Frankenstein monster; KAWS is hung by one of his cartoon figures floating off its tethers; Shepard Fairey is suffocated by an over-sized Obey Giant sticker. By knocking off all of these megastars in one fell swoop, McCann acts out a fantasy of destroying the system they represent, a critique and ridicule of the current market in which the perpetual promotion of a few top earners leaves a larger population of artists out in the cold. He assures us that it’s all in good fun, however: “It was paying the ultimate respect to these artists that I respect. And the best way for me to do that is for me to kill them in a fun way.”

While the works in “Death to…” are primarily more traditional paintings and sculptures, much of Ryan McCann’s recent practice is based on a self-developed process related to the historical practice of pyrography, or the art of burning a design onto a surface with a heated point. Using a combination of burning and carving into large wooden panels, McCann creates graphic works that often focus on the interaction between portraiture and text. He is particularly interested in the physicality of his process, and puts emphasis on mark-making and workmanship. In addition to recent solo exhibitions at Black Square Gallery in Miami and Gallery 825 in Los Angeles, McCann has created commissioned works for Gibson Guitars, Patron Tequila, and the New Orleans Saints.

 —K. Sundberg

Discover more artists at Guy Hepner.

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