Photo by Denisa Kraus. Art by Rio Trenaman
Photo by Denisa Kraus. Art by Rio Trenaman

Denisa Kraus
The Navigator

Do not ask Rio Trennaman to paint a pretty picture. The artist and graphic design student at VIU met with The Navigator over a big cup of bad coffee and spoke about his visceral art, down-to-earth career reasoning, and childhood spent in-line skating on gravel roads.

Navigator: When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

Rio Trenaman: My mom encouraged me to do art from a very early age. Not like “oh, you should do art!,” but she’d always buy me supplies and stuff. I’ve been doing art for quite a while now, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until grade 11 or 12.

N: I know you’re a skater. Did you do any sports as a kid?

RT: On Mudge, the island off Gabriola where I lived, there were only gravel roads, so I couldn’t. I got a pair of roller blades for some reason and tried to use those, so roller blades on gravel roads was as close as I got to skating until grade 10 two years after when we moved to Nanaimo.”

N: Why did you choose to study graphic design and not fine arts?

RT: I actually did a year in fine arts, but if I’m going to spend a lot of money to get a degree, I want something that will be commercially viable. Putting money on fine arts is a risky bet. Plus, graphic design is a lot harder to learn on your own than when you have experts to teach and train you. Fine art is more free and there are fewer rules. In graphic design, there’s a purpose to it, you’re trying to communicate something, you’re working for a client. There is a lot of rules and things you have to know. So I decided to spend money on education where I can still be creative and—ideally—make money, and do my fine arts aside.

N: What inspires the artist in you?

RT: I draw a lot of inspiration from music. Often, I listen to a song and want to translate the feeling into artwork. In terms of artists, I wish I knew more. I appreciate the expertise in the paintings of Jan Van Eyck, his intense and detailed perfection, but I’m most drawn to darker art, like Goya or Gericault. I like minimal and contemporary stuff like Raymond Pettibon. He’s cynical, post modern, and emotional. And I’m definitely inspired by horror movies as well.

N: What is the most traumatizing horror movie you can think of?

RT: I would say the opposite—I enjoy watching ridiculous horror movies, or the classics, like Thing and its awesome technical effects—movies that are not so much about the psychological terror, but rather the over-the-top effects, guts, and gore.

N: Your work doesn’t seem to come from random thoughts and ideas, but rather respond to something…

RT: I feel a lot of my art comes from my angsty, frustrated mentality, and I’m trying to be confrontational with the stuff I do. It is not so much angst about everyday things, like having my coffee in a soup cup [sips from the soup cup], but a greater angst of things we are all subject to. One of our sole purposes of being is to find a purpose or meaning, and the universe does not have an answer ever. It’s a cause of this great existential angst. I’m trying to express that sort of emotion in my work.

N: How do you transcribe this angst into your work?

RT: Angst is just one way to put it. It’s not like I’m sitting in a sphere of angst all the time. It’s just how I express the uncertainty of life. Life is dirty and messy, the world is fucking chaos, and when I try to represent it visually, I don’t paint pastoral scenes. That’s why I’m attracted to the horror imagery. I like the gore in movies, weird slime textures… I’m experimenting with recreating art of Bruce Spalding Fuller. He was a comic artist for Horror Street Gore, which was a 1980s underground comic. He was really good at drawing guts and stuff like that.

N: In some works, you seem to respond to advertising and the commercial aspect of our culture.

RT: Advertising is an extension of our current paradigm which essentially commodifies everything and is based completely on materialism and giving you the ability to buy anything if you have enough money. And everything is so cynical, too. Everybody’s trying to sell you something.

N: Come on, man, you’re in graphic design, exchanging art for money.

RT: Absolutely. The primary reason why I’m in it is money. But it’s also a cool, challenging field that presents problems that require creative solutions, and in terms of career, it’s something I want to do. It’s different than art, but I think it’s equally valuable. Yes, it is used for commercial purposes, but it would be cool to have a chance to use it non-commercially, like social or political commentary.

N: What is the desired reaction you want from people who see your art?

RT: I enjoy pushing boundaries, but this isn’t pushing boundaries. There is more extreme art that does that. I’m just trying to bring something different and see how far I can go beyond what people expect.

N: There is obviously a lot of thought behind what you do instead of trying to create visually appealing stuff or pretty pictures…

RT: I like what Nietzsche said: “Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.” I feel that’s what I do in my work. I’m trying to write with my own blood and express how I feel about the world. I think that a lot of people can empathize with feelings of anxiety and absurdity, or the desire to be confrontational and weird and do the unexpected, which sounds kind of pretentious, but I don’t mean it that way. I want art to be able to communicate something to everybody, not just people who are interested in art. That’s the aspect of the overtly confrontational images: they’re engaging to everybody with or without the understanding of art.

N: Do you think powerful art can be made without being confrontational or conveying anxiety?

RT: Absolutely. Look at gothic architecture, the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral. It is a massive, super elaborate masterpiece. When you stand in there, it’s profound and powerful—the isolation of human effort and aspiration, like a testament of the transcendence of God. That’s heavy…

N: …but then again, it can make you feel a little anxious, because you are just a small figure inside this huge cathedral. Isn’t that confrontational?

RT: I guess so. But if we’re thinking about art up until the most recent movement, post-modernism, every movement has been confrontational to its predecessor. Impressionism started; that was so controversial. When people started painting religious iconography, that was confrontational. Then you have Dada or Futurism that are still controversial. Futurists were like “fuck the past, we’re embracing the future 100 per cent, let’s make it all about speed and progress.” Everything is controversial in some respect at a certain time only because it’s new. Sainte Chapelle is far from low brow- inspired horror pop art, but they both still have similar qualities in this sense. Jan Van Eyck’s work is not overtly confrontational, but still is very powerful. His paintings weren’t necessarily controversial in his day; they were just really good and powerful because of the style and technique.

N: Do you want to share any project you are planning to do in the near future?

RT: As an experoment, I am creating a special Facebook page for those who will read this article. If they add themselves, I’ll send them a small quick drawing.

Editor’s Note: the Facebook page has since been removed.

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