They say Ryan McGinness is a Warhol for the information age, an art rock star, but after sitting down for a 1:1 interview with McGinness, I think it would be closer to say McGinness is a celebration of life. We don’t have to say he would love what’s going on because he’s living the art of the chase, the pursuit of passion and seeking nothing more than what is needed. Ryan McGinness is a firm believer of art being a meaningful pursuit.
Q: How does it feel to meet Hennessy Moet artist Ryan McGinness?
I came to Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love on a Thursday, 84 degrees sunny afternoon with cumulus clouds. To say it’s a beautiful day is an understatement. I walk into a Philly treasure and restaurant by Stephen Starr called Continental Mid-town. The restaurant has a beautiful decor. I have a habit of arriving some minutes before an interview and often I enjoy people watching and observing the atmosphere of any given setting. I’m sitting at the bar and I see a man deep in thought, at a corner booth, sketching in a psychedelic notebook. My first thought was where can I get that notebook. My second thought: that’s Ryan McGinness.
Who is Ryan McGinness?
The New York go-getter appeared to be waiting for his own media event to start and I could tell he was making good use of his time, sketching his next creative. This visit to Philly is his fourth and final stop of the US Hennessy Ryan McGinness Very Special Limited Edition Bottle tour. Prior to Philadelphia, McGinness toured New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.
McGinness is a multi-disciplinary, world-renown artist and designer of the new Hennessy Limited Edition bottle, the fifth in a series that has included critically acclaimed artists, Shepard Fairey, Futura, KAWS and Os Gemêos.
The American artist is one of the most noted visual virtuosos of our time. With a 20-plus year career of professional design work and exhibition, he has been heralded an art star and leading pioneer of the new semiotics by internationally regarded publications like The New York Times, Black Book and Vogue.
Hennessy’s collaboration with McGinness is particularly special as Hennessy celebrates its 250th anniversary and the collaboration is a perfect embodiment of the cognac brand’s two and half centuries of dedication to the art of blending.
I didn’t want him to think I was creeping on him in the corner so I continue to people watch and see a very familiar face, a face from my hometown of Baltimore.
It’s my childhood friend and classmate Lily Rougeot, who also happens to be a member of Hennessy’s PR & communications team. 24 hours beforehand, I get a phone call from Rougeot on interviewing McGinness. We laugh about our voices sounding more sophisticated than when we were girls in green kilts at our alma mater, St. Paul’s School for Girls , located in a suburb outside of Baltimore.
Rougeot has always been very charismatic, welcoming, resourceful and dedicated to community service. She’s always been the life of a party. None of this has changed, but now Rougeot is polished in her presentation and delivery. She’s all grown up and a career in PR is a good fit for her.
We catch up and she introduces me to McGinness, still in the corner booth, enthralled in his sketch book. There’s no bourgeois to the man. He’s very approachable and laid back. We head up to the rooftop lounge in a very compact elevator. Once again, I glance at the psychedelic notebook and blurt out “ Did you create the design of the notebook?” McGinness says yes, he makes his own notebook patterns and opens the composition notebook to show a custom table and array of designs to meet his personal style and project needs. It’s uniquely awesome and more impressive than the common black-and-white-pattern of composition notebooks. He sells these unique notebook patterns and more on his website RyanMcGinness.com.
By the time we get to the rooftop lounge in the heart of Philadelphia, at Continental Mid-town, I feel like I can speak my mind to McGinness on just about anything. He’s very inter-personable.
As we head down the entry way of the rooftop, there is a timeline of blown up photos documenting McGinness’ journey to designing a new label for Hennessy. I’m immediately offered a drink called the Infinity, formulated by Ryan McGinness. He recommends savoring the cognac cocktail on ice.The Infinity drink ingredients include:
- 1.5 oz of Hennessy V.S
- A bar spoon of simple syrup
- .5 oz of fresh lemon juice
- 10 blue berries
- 1 silver ginger
The drink is topped with lemon lime soda. Read the full recipe to learn how to make the Infinity drink by Ryan McGinness . Hands down its one of the best cocktails I’ve had and the Infinity is this year’s art of the chase drink from Hennessy. It was pleasantly refreshing to have cocktails while interviewing the artist as the traditional drink is black coffee or tea. The cocktail is a taste of perfection which I enjoyed with fresh and salty snow peas.
Q: what is it like to interview Ryan McGinness?
It’s an incredible experience. He’s witty, thought-provoking and can’t help but be honest in his approach. He is constantly looking for the artist in every person he encounters. Even as I interviewed him, McGinness was trying to name my craftsmanship as a writer, the ‘how did I get here?’ story we all have. He also seem to admire that I use a note pad and a pen to interview people rather than a laptop or other technological device, a habit I picked up as a teen. McGinness even remarked how I cross out questions I’ve asked and mark up pages in a non-linear format. It was refreshing to feel the exchange of life experiences and thinking deep in thought about how our life stories crossed paths on a Philadelphia rooftop — having a purpose. Meaningful and reflective became the unspoken theme of the interview.
Here’s the story:
During the US Hennessy Ryan McGinness Very Special Limited Edition Bottle project, Ryan McGinness discusses the fact Hennessy was open to any and every idea from the very beginning made this collaboration more appealing and that much stimulating to him.
Q: How did the Hennessy and Ryan McGinness collaboration begin?
It started with an email invitation. He was highly recommended to the Hennessy communications team for his innovative work in custom signage.
If you look back on McGinness’ portfolio, it’s admirable that he never takes on a project unless it’s a good fit for his out of this world personality, style and attitude. He designs skateboards because he loves skateboard culture. He makes custom soccer balls because he loves the sport. To put it short, McGinness creates things he needs and wants, dedicating his life work to making things he would want to keep for himself or improve the utility for others.
In fact, McGinness will not say yes to a project unless he truly feels it is a natural extension of who he is. For example, he would never do any project for a cigarette brand because he is not a smoker. Any work he does, has to fit his lifestyle as McGinness isn’t the type to sell out for a brand. He does what he loves to do and feels that is the point of life.
Hennessy was a perfect fit for him because he loves to drink premium alcohol and they have two and a half centuries of dedication to the art of blending, while encouraging creatives of all form types to never settle; never stop in pursuit of their passions.
Many would love the opportunity to work with Hennessy, the #1 cognac premium offering in the United States. But the year-long project was never a walk in the park.
McGinness confirmed the US Hennessy Ryan McGinness very special Limited Edition Bottle was a very ambitious project. It wasn’t just about designing a bottle label. The project from start to finish was a challenging and expensive project as it took a great deal of thought to tactfully execute. Also he was required to travel a great deal and deep thought process came with the product packaging.
McGinness’ take on the iconic Hennessy V.S label features a distinctive radiant pattern in five fluorescent inks, along with black, silver and an invisible black-light reactive ink resulting in an eight-color artwork that glows under black light. The detail is remarkable.
For the label artwork, McGinness embraced the opportunity to expand his ongoing Black Holes series — one of his most renowned bodies of work — which is currently displayed at the University City Science Center. He’s been working with black light for more than 15 years.
For this project, McGinness wanted an explosive, celebratory feel to the design and people are loving the black light affect, especially on the night life scene.
He worked on two unique label designs —Hennessy V.S Limited Edition by Ryan McGinness ( the 750ml bottle) and the Deluxe Limited Edition Box Set ( features two individually numbered 750ml bottles with different adaptations of the design by McGinness in black and fluorescent colors on a black background) for collectors. The Deluxe set also includes a keepsake booklet, providing a special inside look at the collaboration, and two exclusive artwork coasters.
Q: It’s been a journey for McGinness, but does it feel like work?
The answer is yes. McGinness says it feels like work because he takes his projects seriously. I could see it in his thoughtfulness with every answer and the organization of his sketch book. Searching for his purpose in every project is who he is.
When McGinness put the final touch on the US Hennessy Ryan McGinness very special Limited Edition Bottle, all he could say was:
That’s how it should look.
That gives us insight on his great dedication to the project. The Limited Edition bottle is now available for purchase online and at select wine and spirits retailers nationwide.
“This project falls specifically into the body of work of the Black Holes. This is an example of how a specific concept can be expressed not only through paintings but also through prints, environments, and limited edition products.” – Ryan McGinness
But at forty-three years of age, McGinness’ greatest work by design is fatherhood with two beautiful daughters under the age of four. He brought them on his travels to the city of Cognac, France but for the most part makes it a top priority to separate his work and family space. Although he brings his daughter to his New York Manhattan studio from time to time, discovering that work and life balance is the best and worse part of being a traveling artist. He’s more careful about the projects he takes on because he doesn’t want to miss seeing his children grow up. It takes great leadership for a man to slow down and take in the moments of a family lifestyle, while doing what he feels he was born to do — creating art as a concept of expression is the core of his work and an essential part of his identity. And the form of that expression is based on what’s appropriate for any given project. Every project reflects some form of expression from Ryan McGinness. It wouldn’t be an authentic work from him without his self-expression. Here’s the communication McGinness wants to represent in the Hennessy Limited Edition project:
“What I hope is communicated in this label and in this artwork is a sense of enlightenment, and a spiritual awakening of sorts. My wish is that the light, bright colors on the label can take you to another place, another understanding, or even an emotional state that is hopefully uplifting.”
The Virginia Beach native and Carnegie Mellon University alum ( which he chose to attend for its vigorous education program and great electives beyond the arts) is a man we can continuously expect great things from, even with his motto that no cares just live. He’s a breath of fresh air to the informational technology age and the stakes are higher than ever for him as an entrepreneur, husband, father and artist. Everything he does now comes with a careful approach. And at the end of the day McGinness’ interest in art matters more than his career achievements. That honest approach to his life work is what makes him wildly successful and an inspiration to those he encounters.
Q: What is next up for Ryan McGinness? What’s next for the accessible, approachable man of great integrity? The answer is plenty:
- Although his US tour has come to a close, he’ll be traveling to Moscow in September with Hennessy.
- He has a big Instagram project reveal within the next two months ( three years in the making) and as many of his works, McGinness has a site-specific specific work in mind. He didn’t want to be like any other Instagram account — taking pictures of food and random life happenings. McGinness feels his @mcginnessworks Instagram account should be used with its design purpose in mind. All the black dots on his Instagram are ingredients for a larger piece, zoom-out exhibit. Every dot has a reason, a meaning, a purpose. Every post is pre-made and pre-loaded. With that said, the postings are randomized in content as well as timing. He’s always been a man with a passion for presenting ideas and concepts in real-time. It won’t surprise me if the Instagram project becomes a new chapter in his bodies of work collection. Yes, he has chronologies. Read his thesis of “What is a book?” to learn why linear formats play a major role in his life.
- McGinness is working on a mother and child series, a classic art theme that has blossomed into several projects within a series. He says with confidence that fatherhood, the creation of offspring is the total fulfillment of one’s humanity, but it comes at a high cost in the form of time and its impact on his workflow. To put it short, he doesn’t have as much time to work on projects as he did before fatherhood.
- And a LA exhibit in spring 2016.
By interviewing McGinness, one realizes cool graphics are more than a popularity contest. Quality graphics add great value to any object and he believes art is a vehicle for people to find their place in the world. McGinness says this is especially true for the youth because art can facilitate identity discovery, purpose and life balance.
As our interview came to a close, McGinness went the same as he came — a humble guy walking the streets of Philadelphia. This time headed to the Fine Wine & Good Spirits for a meet and greet autograph event for the bottle and deluxe sets. With a night capping off at Philadelphia art hub PAFA, where a hundred tastemakers experience the black lights in full effect, showing the fluorescent label design.
Here are fun facts about Ryan McGinness:
- McGinness is a fan of Frank Sinatra and the song New York, New York inspired him to move to New York because “ If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere,”
- He has lived in New York for at least 21 years
- He has worked as a Curatorial Assistant for the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA
- His youngest daughter knows how to flag a cab down in the heart of Manhattan
- He still vacations in Virginia
- You can read about the entire Hennessy project in the book Hennessy Very Special by Ryan McGinness a Limited Edition
To learn more about Ryan McGinness check out Ryan McGinness Studios, Inc. and Ryan McGinness on Facebook.
This interview is from August 28, 2015 Philadelphia, PA, Continental Mid-town.
Who is the interviewer?
Briana Booker is an independent and leading reporter for various digital media platforms, including AXS.com , The Examiner, CBS Local, The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Style Weddings Magazine and Howard Magazine. She has done press for Mashable.com, the White House and more.
In addition to her journalist pursuits, Briana Booker is a digital strategist and brand consultant for major corporation such as HTC and Panera Bread.
The Baltimore and CBS local reporter also supports local startups and non-profits through her lifestyle magazine Fromgirltogirl.com. Booker studied International Relations at American University and took studies in journalism since the age of 16. Booker resides in the Baltimore / DC metro area. To learn more about the CBS local reporter, connect with her on LinkedIn.