By MARIEPET MANGOSING, March 2022
The “most overtly political artist at the KI Smith gallery,” Ryan Bock, better-known as Bockhaus, is aware of his semi-anonymous position in the world and hopes to add to the conversations that surround these divisive times. Bockhaus credits Cubo-Expressionism for his foundations in art, mostly inspired by the way the Czechs and the movement had its hands in many different mediums. He says, “When I was exposed to Cubism, the Czechs had a way of applying Cubist theory in architecture, poetry, theater and in so many other multimedia facets which was interesting to me.”
Bockhaus goes on to mention that his signature muted color choices, iconographic imagery and use of hard lines, are also rooted in Cubism, stating, “I was interested in the dark brown palettes. My style was born out of that, as well as German Expressionism and Italian Futurism.” Like in Cubist, Expressionism and Futurism theory, Bockhaus rejects the idea of traditional perspectives and challenges it by scrutinizing its inherent historical context.
Drawing inspiration from street art in cities he has lived, such as Chicago, Santa Fe, and now Brooklyn, Bockhaus has developed his own practice by blending his propensity for art history and the murals he walks past every day. Bockhaus ended up with an “easily recognizable” style “where different media collide.”
Heavily influenced by German expressionist horror films, Bockhaus began producing his own exhibitions based on these movements, reflecting, “There were three years where every exhibition I made was based on a German Expressionism horror film from between the 1910s and 1920s, exploring the different allegories that exist in those works.” The narratives, of course, use stark contrasts, dark and light, to highlight the general heightened emotionality and sense of loss post-WWI.
Bockhaus cites these films as a predecessor for his insignia in paintings and other projects, leading him towards a fascination with sordid aspects of human history. He shares, “In high school, I was working on a series that was based on The Black Plague. During that time, people were using a bird mask and stuffed the beak full of herbs to block the contagion.” In 2005, I was already thinking about this. Airborne contagion is my biggest fear.” He goes on to say, “What was happening years ago is happening again, in a political and global sense. I couldn’t have tried to make things so in line with what’s going on now.”
After the 2020 pandemic lockdowns in New York City, Bockhaus turned to his art to make sense of his biggest fear becoming a reality. He notes, “I’m always processing the outside world. In terms of the early lockdown, I thought I was going to die so I made as much as possible. For three months, I made something everyday. It was a productive time and a testament that I have to do this for myself if for no one else.” Even when in-person events were staved off, Bockhaus immediately pivoted back to his roots in film to provide an optimal experience to show his work. He emphatically poses an almost rhetorical question, “How can I bring similar experiences to people? And the answer, for me, was film. It reconnected me to films to have that immersive experience from home.”
With his upcoming exhibition at Ki Smith Gallery in New York City in May, Bockhaus is ready to share what dealing with his fear and uncertainty during this time has felt like. Bockhaus proposes, “This body of work that I’m working on is very strange. I started creating it before COVID and now the series feels even more poignant and relevant in terms of how things have shifted in the art market and the world.”
When discussing recent civil injustices and unrest during the height of the pandemic in relation to his work, Bockhaus used his platform to try to relay the messaging to those who most needed to hear about it. He says, “During the Black Lives Matter protests, artists came out in droves to paint over the boarded up businesses. I was asked by several people to come out to paint but I wasn’t willing to participate,” wanting instead to yield his space for BIPOC artists. Bockhaus did, however, utilize a billboard exhibition, commissioned specifically for him by his gallerist, to speak up against Asian hate.
Bockhaus talks about his choice stating, “I usually consider the space the work will occupy. As far as the billboards for the Asians Belong Here exhibit, I didn’t feel bad about taking that space because it’s normally used for advertising and capitalism but I regret that I wasn’t like, ‘is this OK to do?’” Though questioning his decision to partake, Bockhaus references, “The piece was based on a book from 1942 about how the Chinese arrived in America before Columbus. It’s heavily disputed but I wanted to pose the idea of what values would be upheld if the Chinese were accredited with discovering America. What would be different?”
Bockhaus ultimately seeks solace in the analysis of these contending perspectives. He punctuates his thoughts with, “I’ve been making this kind of work in hopes to enrich the conversation rather than detracting.”
By assessing the past, Bockhaus’ work aims to saliently discover more about where we currently stand and where we might be headed. The main takeaway staunchly urging that the pathway to real change is learning from history’s cyclical nature to find exactly how to upend it.
Mariepet Mangosing is a bi-coastal writer and graphic designer from Jersey City. She has worked in brand packaging, web and print design for the past decade. Her feature length screenplay The Batholiths has been shortlisted in the Macro x Blacklist Feature Screenwriting Incubator program. In her work, she advocates mental wellness and accurate cultural representation in film, television and other media. She examines relationship dynamics through a first-generation immigrant lens. She has her BA in Visual Communications from Ramapo College of New Jersey and is an MFA candidate in Screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University.
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