Ryan Mennealy creates one of a kind, hand made ceramics. He throws, casts, perforates, and glazes each piece by hand, making every piece unique. It is both a visual and tactical experience for both the artist, and those who interact with his work.
Ryan was raised in a creative environment, making the transition to a life as an artist more seamless than most. In fact, he’s a second-generation potter—his father taught high school ceramics. His mother too was both an artist and educator. He says his parents inspired creativity by example.
“My experiences from a very young age usually involved art. Which is why it seemed perfectly normal to me that our guest bedroom was a fully converted photography darkroom, complete with enlargers and a myriad of chemicals. And of course we had a ceramic wheel on our back deck.”
“To me, creativity and innovation are a combination of seeing the world a little bit differently than most people, and then applying your vision in a way that you can share it with the world. In order to accomplish that I think you need to be very comfortable in your own skin, and not readily influenced by the masses.”
Like many who lead an unbounded creative life, Ryan has had a few jobs along the way to being a professional potter. From washing yachts in college, to set dressing for Oliver Stone and Ron Howard, to Art Consulting, and a brief stint running an Art Gallery. He’s now a full time ceramicist, coming full circle back to his childhood life and education.
One consistent thread across most creative people is being observant—viewing and interpreting the world as a whole, and filtering it through the creative mind. And Ryan is no exception. He calls himself "inquisitive," always enjoying understanding things and how and why things work. “Whether it's a mathematical formula, a glaze recipe, or why the sky is blue, I love to know why things are what they are.”
Here is how Ryan explains his creative process:
I think that I've always been an observant person…visually speaking anyway. So I go through life looking at things, and noticing the subtleties all around. Whether it's the irregular spacing of a neighbors fence, or the amazing colors of a sunset, I enjoy seeing what the world has to offer.
Then somehow certain images just stick with me. I never know when inspiration will hit, so I have several sketch books strewn about (in my studio, office, bedroom and car) so whenever I see something inspiring, I can make a note of it.
On days when I don't feel like making anything, or during down time firing a kiln, I'll go through my notes/sketches and explore new visual ideas. Sometimes I'll go back to an idea that is months or even years old, and try to figure out how I can translate my inspiration into clay. After I have a 2 dimensional image that I'm happy with, I start working in clay. Some of the things I make go right in the trash. Not everything translates perfectly from my mind to clay. But you never know until you try. And then there are pieces that overall are failures, but have some element that works. Those pieces are scattered in the yard around my studio, serving as an inspiration for future works. My family and I refer to that area as "the land of misfit pots."
Ryan’s goal is to create things that he finds aesthetically pleasing. Whether it's a shape, a pattern, or a glaze, he experiments until he finds something that resonates. “Once I'm happy with a piece, then I'm confident that somewhere in this big wide world there will be someone else who likes, or more importantly needs, it too.”
Of course, like many creative professionals, Ryan balances his right brain influences with the more practical, detailed functionality of the left side of his brain. After all, being a creative professional is one part creative (right brain) and one part business (left brain).
“I think that both sides of my brain work pretty well together…I'm analytical, very detail oriented, I love math, and I'm practical…(but) I'm creative, have great spatial awareness, and visualize things. Basically, I can see the big picture, but I also see all of the details in it.”
This seems obvious as you discover the wonderful concept, and attention to detail of Ryan’s art. For example, Ryan tries to incorporate wood ash into almost all of his glazes. You see, around 2300 degrees Fahrenheit, ash will melt to form a glaze. He believes that ash brings out characteristics of clay that can't be achieved any other way. And, there is a deeper significance; “It's my way of paying homage to the history of ceramics, specifically to wood firing kilns that date back thousands of years.”
So you can see why Ryan is called, "Mr. Potter."