Note: The 100 Colorado Creatives series began with a test run in early 2011, and now, after profiling more than 400 local innovators and cultural heroes, we’ve reached a plateau the end of the series’ 4.0 edition. Clearly, our state has thousands of creative people, so we're giving the next installment more room to roam, with an open-ended series that goes backward and forward in time. Look for more fresh faces, interspersed with posts revisiting subjects from years ago, with new answers to new questions.
Who left Colorado? Who stayed? Who just arrived? We’ll examine the region’s cutting-edge cultural past, present and future in a new, more infinite Colorado Creatives series. Here we go…beginning with a string of artists showing work later this week at the 2018 Supernova Digital Animation Festival.
Denver’s Supernova Digital Animation Festival is an international congress, but Colorado participant Ryan Wurst is one of several artists proving that our region has a growing and inventive experimental multimedia underground. As an artist, musician and guy who knows his way around software, Wurst has a handle on everything it takes to produce good digital animation from scratch, all while continuing his studies on the graduate level in intermedia arts, writing and performance at the University of Colorado. Digital animation is still a young discipline: Read on to experience Wurst’s point of view on a new horizon.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Ryan Wurst: I definitely get inspired by people, like my girlfriend, Alison, who is a theater improviser and great educator. I grew up loving shows like Saturday Night Live and basically any kind of comedy show, but she really was the one who got me thinking about how theater improvisation works and how it is taught. Right now with my work, I am trying to teach some of my 3-D characters how to improvise, and I blame her for putting that in my head.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
This is an interesting question because so much depends on the kind of party. If I am having a dinner party, like a sophisticated kind of affair, I would probably go for people who could fit in that setting. Maybe someone like Napoleon, mostly because I really got into studying Napoleon from the age of twelve to fourteen. It would be the kind of party where I would just ask him endless questions, like “Really!? Russia in winter? Come on!” Then he’d get angry and storm out, and I’d say, “Thanks for Louisiana!” It’d be a whole thing.
I think if the party was at a bar, I’d want to invite Steve Martin. With it being a bar, the party could go many ways. If it was a small gathering, we could find a booth to talk philosophy and comedy. But if it got into a bigger kind of party, he could just tell amazing stories.
And in all honesty, in most party situations I would want to invite any of my close friends. I am pretty much introverted, so meeting people is always a little anxiety-inducing, especially if I don’t know them. I feel most comfortable with people that I am close to in a living room. That’s actually ideal. Especially when it’s my living room and I don’t have to leave the house.
I feel very lucky to be a part of a few creative communities. On one hand I make music and play out in Denver/Boulder every so often, and the group of people making electronic music here is really amazing. They are extremely open to more kinds of music than any group of musicians I have ever met. There is a deep love of great music and excellent parties. One group, Deep Club, is a great group of guys who are all amazing musicians and know how to throw a good basement party. They were extremely welcoming when I moved back to Denver three years ago.
I also am lucky to be a part of the digital art/animation community in Denver, and that is in large part to the work of Ivar Zeile [of Denver Digerati]. I think he does such an amazing job of looking at the whole world of digital art, but always has roots in the community. He really is cultivating a lot here.
How about globally?
Its absolutely great being able to work in a medium that I can share what I do with a global community. I run the record label Always Human Tapes, and that has afforded me the opportunities to connect with a ton of musicians outside of local communities. I started the label in Minneapolis with two friends, Peter Lansky and Josh Bestgen, and continue to have great connections there. It has also allowed me to connect to an even wider global community. Always Human Tapes released some tapes by a couple of people in Croatia, and that ended up with them inviting me to play shows in Zagreb and Belgrade, which would have never happened without the larger support of a global community
How did you end up working with digital media, and what drew you in that direction?
I actually grew up doing mostly music and went to school initially for music composition. I was very much into writing music for ensembles, orchestras and bands. It was a little bit of a happenstance that I got into electronic music. I took an electronic music class, and I had a professor, John Drumheller, who really noticed that I was taking to using the computer as a way to make music. It was that initial push from him that got me going into making music with the computer. As I was diving deeper into electronic music, I had another professor and just good friend, Michael Theodore, introduce me to the programming and visual side of the computer. At that point I was just obsessed with making anything, visual or musical, with the computer. Michael encouraged me a ton to look into visual art for grad school. And he was the one who convinced me to pursue a Ph.D. in Boulder.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
I have a hard time being reflective on the art that I have made. I am mostly looking toward a new idea. Always Human Tapes has probably been one of my largest, ongoing projects that allows me to produce a ton of music and art. I’ve released 25 of my own albums on the label and made countless videos for it as well. AHT has also afforded me the opportunity to connect with so many people. It’s really a system that allowed for opportunities, and that comes from the consistent work of Josh and Peter, as well as the tons of artists who release music on the label. It feels bigger than just one of my projects.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Oooooooffffff… hahahaha. I honestly don’t know. It's probably something I haven’t even thought of yet.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I grew up just south of Denver, and my family still lives there, so Colorado has always felt like home. I have spent a lot of formative time in Colorado, in Boulder and Denver. I definitely have deep connections to places, many of them basements full of computers, but am always happy to experience other places as well. There are interesting people everywhere, and sometimes it is hard to find them, but not in Denver. I love being able to go outside at any point in the year, unlike Minneapolis where I lived for a bit. I think that so much of a person’s love of a place is based on people, and I am surrounded by people here who are absolutely wonderful. People make the place.
Hands down: Michael Theodore. Michael is so talented in so many ways. I have seen him rip it on the guitar, design complex motor systems based on cricket chirping, paint incredibly, plan massive installations, write gorgeous violin pieces and create beautiful videos. All that while being a smart, compassionate and thoughtful human. I am lucky that he is a great friend and collaborator.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
This year I am very much focused on my dissertation work for my Ph.D. in Boulder. I am working on creating a TV station with three infinite TV shows. I am using video-game software to create a game that plays itself, which is based on the mechanics of three common TV show formats: the sitcom, the police drama and the made-for-tv movie. I am writing the AI so that my characters will continuously improvise scenes, and so that each show could theoretically go on forever and constantly change.
I think this year is absolutely going to be a big year for Supernova, and specifically Ivar [Zeile]. This is the third year of Supernova, and each year it gets bigger and bigger. The amount of talented artists involved this year is staggering. They are all artists whom I have looked up to, and I can’t believe that they are a part of this! It’s really impressive what Ivar has been able to put together. I am already in awe, and the festival hasn’t happened yet!
See work by Ryan Wurst during the Supernova Digital Animation Festival in the Denver Theatre District as part of the following shows and programs:
Cricket Cinema Tour, Saturday, September 22, noon to 8 p.m., 1245 Champa Street Plaza: Screenings by Jhene Chase, Lares Feliciano, Kendra Fleischman, David Fodel, Jason Hatfield and Ryan Wurst.
Colorado Artist Spotlight, Saturday, September 22, 1:30 p.m.; Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Champa street LED screen and inside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
Supernova Competition, Saturday, September 22, 6 p.m.; Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Champa street LED screen and inside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
“Hattlerizer 4.D” and “Fulcrum,” Sunday, September 23, Roser ATLAS Center, 1125 18th Street 320, University of Colorado Boulder: Abstract animation and audiovisual performance featuring Supernova guest jurors Max Hattler and Robert Seidel, with Ryan Wurst.
Learn more about Ryan Wurst and his work online.