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From Athlete to Artist: Former UCLA Quarterback Ryan McCann Brings The Fire

Football and art seem to have very little in common, except for the All-Star that is Ryan McCann. Former Quarterback for the UCLA Bruins and the Cincinnati Bengals, Ryan had suffered a shoulder injury that left him no choice but to cut his career short.

But all that energy and passion didn’t just evaporate. He channeled that into the arts, using- nay, pioneering– a unique technique of using a blowtorch to burn an image onto wood.

His work makes commentary on popular culture, sometimes indirectly satirical, sometimes blatantly speaking on a socio-political truths. He has done commissioned work for Gibson Guitars, Patron Tequila, and the World Champion New Orleans Saints.

Needless to say, we’re huge fans of a multi-talented (and resilient) man like Ryan – and became even huger ones after we got to know him and his work better. Keep reading –

Wood Mirror Installation 5flat

The Wood Mirror Installation – furniture and art by Ryan McCann


Why did you decide to pursue art after your football injury?

I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember. The demands of playing football at a college level was all consuming, there was no time left to spend hours in a studio or see a piece through from concept to form.

After my surgery I had the time and mental space to reengage with my passions outside of sports—the desire to make art was by far my strongest internal pull and that drove me back into the practice of being a working artist.


How do you think your background as an athlete influenced you as an artist? Style, or work-ethic-wise

There’s a core work ethic that crosses over between the dedication it takes to play pro sports and the time and practice it takes to make art. It’s a daily dedication. There’s a resiliency in creating… a conditioning that happens mentally. I think the level of focus it takes to succeed as an artist or an athlete are very much the same.


Football 96x48 Med

Football- Blowtorch on Wood


What is your first thought when approaching a new concept/project?

The more the thoughts are left out the better. I tend to rely on feeling to lead me in the rightdirection. Usually if it feels a little uncomfortable to move forward with a piece I know I’m on the right track. I think you can get in trouble if you start “thinking” things like, “what will people think of this? or I’ll do it in landscape because those sell better.” I have a copy of the John Baldessari Tips for Artist who want to sell framed in my studio.


Briefly describe your creation process for the average viewer.

 Idea, vision, concept—take it out of my head and put it onto paper. I look at it again and decide if it’s worth making. Make it.


Do you enjoy all the tactile labor that goes into creating your works?

I love the meditative aspect that doing detailed monotonous work provides. I also love the challenge of working with non-traditional mediums. Working with fire can be a little unpredictable so the surprises that come out of that can be enlightening as well.


What has been your favorite or most memorable project/show/anything that you’ve worked on so far?

The “Death to Shepard Fairey” sculpture has been the most memorable. To see that piece go from an idea, to a sketch, to raising the money to fabricate, to the sculpting, to making the mold, to painting the piece, and then to see it hung up at Scope with Inner State Gallery during Art Basel. People automatically assume that this idea of killing off my idols or inspirations would incite a negative reaction from the featured artist—but Shepard and his wife Amanda were both really cool about it and we connected through the piece after Scope 2014.


Death to ShepF(sm)

Death to Shepard Fairey – Fiberglass and Acrylic

Your 3 main sources of inspiration?

Meditation—dropping into a creative headspace that is not judging, just receiving and being.
Text / copy—words.
Music—every part of it.


3 feelings you’d want to evoke in people viewing your work?

I wouldn’t limit feeling to a number or give feelings a hierarchy. Feel anthing, feel everything…just don’t feel nothing. The only emotion I wouldn’t want someone to experience looking at the work is a void, a “meh”.


Original Art Not Available- Blowtorch, Oil, Acrylic on Wood


The overlay text – where do these words come from?

A feeling, a thought, a statement. Sometimes I choose text simply because of the architecture of the word, it transcends the meaning and breaks down to just the shape of the letters. Sometimes it comes in a flash with the color, font, size, punctuation all enact and all I have to do is execute.


Caitlyn Jenner Orig

Caitlyn Jenner- Blowtorch, Acrylic and Photo on Wood

Ice Cube Melting 60x45

Ice Cube Melting- Blowtorch on Wood


Cristal Protest- Blowtorch on Wood


General Lee 45x33 med

General Lee – Blowtorch and Acrylic on Wood

Want more?
Ryan’s next solo exhibition will be at:
LaunchLA (170 S. La Brea Ave)
Saturday, March 5th 6-9pm

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