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Artist Interview Project Part 2: Ryan Kerrigan

In the next Artist Interview Project post, we’ll highlight a second Oregon-based artist. In this interview, you’ll read about the art of Ryan Kerrigan.  The first part of this entry includes a student’s reflective summary of the interview. It is followed by the full interview text.

Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.

You can check out Ryan Kerrigan’s artwork on Facebook and his professional website


Phish has developed a large, devoted fan base through their creative, improvisational music. A unique, devoted community unites “phans” into what John Drabinksi calls an “occasional community,” which is a community created by people who occupy one temporary place. Influenced by Phish’s music, phan artists have transformed the band’s musical expression into other artistic mediums. One such artist is Ryan Kerrigan. As a teen, he was captivated by the creativity of Phish, in particular the song Divided Sky. He instantly began touring with the band.

In 1999, Ryan transitioned from phan to phan-artist with the creation of his first poster. The reception from phans was incredible, which led him to continue creating work that is representative of the touring experience, with a direct connection to each venue.

Kerrigan begins each creation with pencil/marker. The artwork then progresses with the addition of watercolor. His original designs are transformed into other formats such as pins and prints. Ryan creates a vibrant aesthetic experience that phans can carry with them to remember Phish’s concerts.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant would describe Ryan’s work as beautiful, because his art uses colors in their simplest and purest of form. The beauty that Kant refers to can be found throughout the work of Kerrigan, whose designs use a combination of pure and impure colors to create balance and unity. Kerrigan finds connection to great artists like Salvador Dali, for his free thought within surrealist works. He is also inspired by Maxfield Parish’s creation of dreamlike imagery and Peter Max’s use of vibrancy. You can see these influences in Kerrigan’s “Happy Fish” designs as they guide you through a geographical journey of the summer 2015 Phish tour. The Bend, OR (July 21, 22) Happy Fish depicts forest scenery, while the blue tones of the Watkins Glen, NY (August 21-23) invoke images of water.

Kerrigan’s work fascinates its observer. You can easily get lost in his skillful use of color, including soft to vibrant tones, and the flowing text that creates the finished fish form. Kerrigan’s designs embody the uniqueness and freedom of Phish’s music. The aesthetic experience resulting from an encounter with Kerrigan’s creations is one that Leo Tolstoy would describe as pleasure and joy.

When asked to describe the most inspiring aspect of being part of the Phish community, Kerrigan referred to the continued growth that comes from constantly creating new works. He works in small, limited editions so that his creative power can evolve. His favorite creation is always his “next one,” because he sees his growth and change as essential to his artistic process and Phish’s music. Ryan’s artwork creates external, concrete representations of Phish’s music that phans find infectious, to use Tolstoy’s terminology. While I don’t consider myself a phan, I have found a real connection to Kerrigan’s “Happy Fish” designs.

Interview Transcript

When you first became acquainted with Phish what was it that made you want to become part of that community?

I first began hearing about Phish towards the end of high school (Manchester, NH). Somebody I worked with made me a mixed tape. It was actually Junta re-arranged in the order of her favorite songs! Divided Sky happened to be the first tune on there and I was immediately hooked. The next summer I got to see my first show (7/19/91 Casino Ballroom, Hampton, New Hampshire… Shockra opened up!). Hearing the music the first time, I was in love…hearing/seeing it live for the first time, I was forever captured.

As an artist what is your current relationship with Phish community?

I began creating music posters while in college (Penn State 90-94). While touring heavily in those years, we didn’t yet see a true lot scene where one might buy or sell artwork. It was beer and grilled cheese for the most part at that point. Summer of 1999 I created my first print to be shown on tour. It was very well received and the whole tour printing took off from there. The Phish community is so receptive to creative thinking and that extends through the visual arts you see represented throughout the tour.

When it comes to creating the different aspects of your work– from the drawings to the pins– do you make the drawing first and then transfer the work to different formats?

Everything I create starts with the drawing, hand touching paper, pen, marker, and watercolor added for color. The finished paintings are scanned or photographed and then printed.

Your style of work uses a lot of color and is very graphic. Do you have a favorite artist who has influenced your style and aesthetic?

There are so many, the masters of the 60’s poster scene are heroes just because of what they did, reviving/inventing an entire scene of art lovers within the music community (Tuten, Singer, Conklin, Mouse, Wilson, Griffin), Dali for his free thought, Maxfield Parrish for his dreamlike palette, Peter Max for his vibrancy, Georgia O’keefe for her simplistic power, and the 1970’s Saturday morning cartoons of my youth for their playfulness.

When you were creating your current work for the Phish summer tour how did you come about the decision to use the repeated element of the fish and the text throughout to make the body?

I generally like to create something entirely fresh for each project, often incorporating something geographically relevant to that particular show. I starting creating the “Happy Fish” in 2009 (just a couple) then went big with them in 2011, when I created one for every venue on tour. My mom really loved the early ones and suggested I do a whole series of them…moms always know, right? So that’s what I did in 2011. People dug them. That’s the year I began making pins of the fishes, which has now become a 4 year series of pins. This summer I decided to bring back the happy fish posters for each venue. I love them as pins, but its fun to see them as big posters!

What is the most inspiring thing about being involved with the Phish community?

The continued growth…

Everything I create is a limited edition and I like to keep the editions small. The reason for that is that I like to produce a lot of work, so I like to turn it over quickly. That way I get to move on to the next thing, the next piece. People ask me all the time, “What’s your favorite piece you’ve done?” I always say “the next one.” Being an artist is about constantly creating and recreating, and no clearer example of that is this band we follow around. Is it possible that the band we love is just now approaching their prime? Sure seems like it…and watching how their art fosters creative thinking in all aspects of our community, inspiration abounds.