Bremerton artist uses stencil to recover from debilitating injury

  • Sun Nov 27th, 2011 9:45pm
  • News

By Amy Phan Kitsap Sun

BREMERTON — From coffeehouses and bars in Bremerton to pizza restaurants in Seattle, Bremerton resident Dave Ryan’s stencil artwork decorates the walls of many businesses.

Called Manitcore Stencil Art, his work became a quick favorite among art enthusiasts and business owners since its debut in 2008. He was asked to work on a special mural of the Manette Bridge last year and he’s almost done.

“I’ve been so fortunate during this whole time and having people embrace my work. I can’t see a different path than where I’m at today,” the 28-year-old said.

But three years ago, Ryan was in a much different place.

While on a backpacking trip to Philadelphia with friends, he jumped off a ledge into a swimming area. But he didn’t jump far enough from the rocks and ended up breaking his sixth vertebrae and shattering his spinal cord.

When he woke from surgery, he found out he had a chunk of titanium in his neck and had lost most of his fine motor skills. Doctors told him the damage would be permanent and he’d be lucky if he could regain his skills.

He looked to stenciling as a way to regain his skills and began to take a more serious interest in the hobby, which he had dabbled in while attending college.

“It was hard to work on the stenciling during that time, but I really liked it. I worked really hard at it,” he said.

When he first started he didn’t even have enough strength to spray paint with one hand.

Before his injury, Ryan worked at a local hardware store. He’s since traded in his uniform for art supplies and a corporate office for his art-filled Bremerton home. He can cut about 50 stencils a day.

He’s built a diverse portfolio, spray painting pop-culture images on vinyl records. Recent subjects include the Morton Salt girl pouring the product onto a slug and blues guitarist B.B. King strumming his iconic Gibson guitar.

The 28-year-old does this by cutting out several layers of the same image from record sleeves and then spray painting each layer onto the records, adding more depth to the picture with each layer.

He guesses he has close to 600 vinyl records packed into a turquoise bookshelf in his house alone.

He’s expanded his artwork to include magnets and stenciling on throwaway paintings as well.

He’s since traveled to numerous Seattle and Portland festivals to showcase and sell enough of his work to make a “comfortable living.”

In mid-October, he went to the large New York-based pop-culture festival, Comic-Con.

“Dave’s reference to pop culture is really practical in America. It’s what we identify with across all ethnic boundaries everyone watches TV and stays in touch with pop culture,” said David Francis, vice president and curator for a few Seattle-based galleries dedicated to showcasing contemporary art collectively known as the Center for Contemporary Art. “People really show their cultural literacy when they hang Dave’s artwork up.”

Francis recently saw Ryan’s artwork for the first time while eating at a restaurant in Seattle and decided to invite him to participate in the center’s 19th annual 24-hour artist marathon. About 60 applicants applied from five different states and only 26 people were accepted for this year’s marathon, which was two weeks ago.

Organizers thought Ryan’s pop-culture artwork rounded out other artists using wax, acrylic and multimedia mediums well.

With a good night’s rest and caffeine drinks throughout the marathon, Ryan completed 39 pieces during the marathon; the most work produced during the event.

“I hope people see what I’m doing and it inspires them to do it, too,” he said. “Competition always ups the ante.”