Rob Ryan on his soul record collection and Roman coin

It’s the V&A and old soul records that inspire this visual artist

Rob Ryan
Credit: Hugh Kelly
Published: May 25th, 2022 at 10:00 am

I live on the seventh floor of an eight-storey apartment building in London. It borders Victoria, Belgravia and Pimlico – a busy corner behind Victoria Coach Station. It’s red-brick, late 19th-century I guess. I have lived here for 29 years so I suppose I must be happy here. My two daughters, aged 27 and 30, remember no other place to call home. I like the flat as a whole. I’ve never really thought about having a favourite room. It’s too small to have a best one: two little bedrooms, a hallway, a tiny galley kitchen, a diminutive bathroom and a modest living room.

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I buy 1960s, 70s and 80s soul records. I don’t really collect them for the sake of a collection – I enjoy playing and listening to them. I still find it semi-miraculous that by putting a needle on a revolving piece of plastic I can hear the voice of a man or woman singing 50 years ago; sharing their passion, their dreams and hopes, their pleasure and pain across all those years. Those voices of people who have now passed away, they still speak to me – how incredible and how fortunate.

The oldest ‘thing’ I have is a Roman coin my daughter gave me for a Christmas present years ago. I think it’s in my mum’s old sewing box with all of her buttons. The things we hold on to… My latest possession is a set of screen prints by the artist Martin Grover. They are depictions of common weeds. He has an incredibly beautiful way of screen printing – his style is hand-painted and quite unique. I’m not much of a shopper, but I do love the kitchenware shop David Mellor.

Rob Ryan
Dandelion hand-stencilled screen print edition of 50, £30, by Martin Grover.

I designed the invitations for the designer Michael Marriott’s wedding and, as a thank you, he gave me one of his very cleverly designed birch plywood chairs. It looks so delicate that I get a bit scared if anyone goes to sit on it (including me!), but actually it is very sturdy.

Rob Ryan
Rob was given this birch plywood chair (£245) by the designer Michael Marriott

In the 1980s I had a squat in Holborn and I thought painting my bedroom fluorescent pink with a sponge, rather than a traditional paintbrush, was a good idea. It was like a horrific acid trip. Thankfully, in those days I seemed to be out every night enjoying life, so I didn’t have to see it that often.

Artists I admire include Titian, Stanley Spencer, Raoul Dufy, Raphael, Bruegel, Caspar David Friedrich, Adolph Menzel, Claes Oldenburg and countless others. I don’t know what these artists have in common – I guess they’re all storytellers in their own ways. I go to the Victoria and Albert Museum to feel inspired to create. It’s incredibly popular and busy, yet so vast that you can still find quiet corners in obscure rooms where you can be alone and totally undisturbed.

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I would like to be able to speak French. The only language I speak is English… it’s pathetic. I love music, but I have a horrible voice – how wonderful it would be to be able to sing. I listen to quite a lot of podcasts. I love The Frank Skinner Show and Gilbert Gottfried. I tend to like funny things. There is a great podcast called Everything Is Alive, which is a series of interviews with inanimate objects. I listen to a lot of soul music, too.

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