Pigeons, Noodles and Oodles of Coffee: Q & A with South African Artist Ryan Allan


Interview first published on thesewalkingblues.com

HP: Describe yourself in a personal ad. 

RA: Illustrator in a complicated relationship with his sketchbook. Often found staring quietly into tins of paint and at blank walls. Violent coffee addiction. Known to yawn like a wookie.


HP: How does an average day in the Life of Ryan, freelancer and artist extraordinaire, begin? 

RA: With two syllables… “cof-feeeee!” That’s usually followed by either reading a news article or two online or watering my garden with my second cup in hand. I get on with my day from there, tearing apart what I’ve drawn the night before.

HP: How did the 4 Blind Mice come about and what has the collective contributed to your life as an artist and human being? 

RA: We all studied art together, pretty much each in different years but with overlapping time where we shared studio space and were involved in one way or another with each other’s creative process. The group established itself as 4 Blind Mice around about the time when they had their first exhibition in 2009 at the Irie in Port Elizabeth.

At that time I was travelling, and then got involved in environmental work once I returned to PE. I eventually got frustrated with the complacency here around these issues and needed another outlet, and so I returned to art as that vehicle. It was only then, in 2012 that I officially joined the crew.

My whole way of working changed when I joined the crew. They messed me up good. I began exploring illustration as my means of expression, whereas before my work was very abstract, visually and conceptually. They challenged me in this new form. I was now surrounded by a group of guys whose drawing ability well exceeded my own, so I really had to push to improve myself so that I could bring more to the table.

HP: Beyond 4 Blind Mice, you have fingers in so many pies, most notably Creative X. What are you hoping to achieve with Creative X and your many endeavours in the artistic scene in and around your local community?  

RA: I suppose the main goal is to create an environment that is conducive to and supportive of artists. Right now, Port Elizabeth is a really difficult city to try be a full-time artist in, and there are all kinds of factors that contribute to that. As a result, many really talented artists leave for the bigger cities of Jozi and Cape Town, and that is a big loss for us. The scene will never grow if our creatives up and leave, so Creative X will hopefully help the process of turning that around.

HP: With so much on your plate, what would you say are your happiest moments in your day-to-day life?

RA: That first sip of coffee in the morning. I’m a bit of a grouch without it. I do enjoy those moments where my mind wonders off while working on something and I’m hit with a stupid self portrait or pigeon idea. Often I can’t help myself… I abandon my freelance work and get right to it. Blissful procrastination.

HP: Turning to your art, let’s colour me curious…  Tell us a little bit about your infatuation with the common city pigeon.

RA: Ha! Ah, city pigeon. No matter what city in the world you’re in…you’ll find them dominating public spaces. It’s the ones here in our neighbourhood of Central that really got me wanting to draw them though. They have attitude. They eat anything, wet cement included… and will survive that shit! Often you look at one and can hardly believe it’s still alive, but there it goes, greasy feathers, dirt in its eyes, a stump, but its head held high, staring down cars and pedestrians like they don’t belong. They do a pretty good job of that actually.


HP: Any other recurring muses we should know about? 

RA: 3 am and the ocean… not necessarily together, but that’s good too. Actually the latter following a long night working well past the former does something for me.

HP: There’s often an element of humour to your work (your “starving artist” comes to mind). Do you feel that occasionally injecting some fun into what you do is integral to who you are as an artist (even when the joke’s on you!)?

RA: Definitely. I spend a good portion of my day laughing at stupid stuff, sometimes in the company of others, sometimes with just my own mind and the crickets. When you take a good look at it, the world is a pretty absurd place; it’s hard not to laugh. I try bring some of that stuff into my drawings, especially when it comes to my stickers or Inktober challenges.


HP: What would you say is your favourite medium to work? 

RA: Of late I prefer working with drawing inks and pen. I suppose I like it because I work faster with that in comparison to paint on canvas. I’m a bit impatient and don’t like spending too long on a piece.

HP: What do you look for in a studio space? 

RA: Good lighting! As with many artists, I’m a night owl. Those late night hours are my productive hours so I need to have a space with good lighting at night. And decent wall space to stick up and rearrange my notes and reference material. A balcony is always a plus. So far we’ve been lucky with the spaces we’ve occupied both having balconies for some entertaining people watching, usually with coffee or wine in hand.

And the freedom to mess paint… carpeted spaces are not ideal. Our current space is carpeted, but we’ve done well over the last 3 years with only minor paint spillages.


HP: Finally, it’s no secret that the life of an artist is often the road less travelled. In spite of the many challenges, what keeps you coming back for more? 

RA: Ha, such a difficult question. I have a hard time picturing myself doing anything else, but there are times I question why the heck I’m doing this… like when freelance work goes quiet but I’ve got a broken phone, need new tyres for my car, an empty fridge and rent to pay… all at the same time.

But I have stuff I want to say… my art is the only way I feel I can do that effectively.

Ultimately, perhaps, for me, it’s a way of being able to survive this crazy world, a way of coping and processing everything that’s going on without completely losing my mind.

For more from the man himself, be sure to check out:




Black and white profile credits: Dillion Phiri

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