Interview: Ryan Kerrigan

In the next Artist Interview Project post, we’ll highlight an 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



Image via the artist’s Facebook page

The community Phish has built over three decades is nothing short of astonishing. Even if you’re not a phan, you can still appreciate this massive phenomenon. To these community members it is more than a band to enjoy, it is a lifestyle and an opportunity to express who they are. I interviewed one such member, Ryan Kerrigan, who uses his gift for drawing to enhance the Phish community. There was something about his quirkiness and depth that drew me in.

We all know the adage, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But is it really? Leo Tolstoy defines art as way of conveying of emotion. Art is successful when the artist’s emotions are experienced by the receiver. Thus, for Tolstoy, the eye of the beholder has nothing to do with art.

I was curious to learn about the relationship between art and emotion from an artist’s perspective, so I asked Ryan what emotions he strives to convey in his work. Kerrigan’s hope is that the feeling of peacefulness is translated in his artwork. He said, “peacefulness, basically… through provoking the viewing to think, ideally in a positive manner, about the imagery and further, about themselves.” He wants his art to be a positive experience, because there is so much negativity in the world. Kerrigan’s art definitely portrays the feeling of peacefulness that he desires. From its playfulness, to its colors and fluid lines, one can certainly feel peaceful and happy when observing Kerrigan’s art.

Beyond the personal, there are also social aspects involved in the experience of art. Philosopher Jeanette Bicknell writes, “Communing with music is a form of communing with human reality, and that is social” (p. 93). Although I would not consider myself a phan, I can still appreciate the community Phish has built. Each phan contributes to this community in his or her own way. Speaking of his own contribution, Kerrigan said, “my art, just as your dancing, just as charitable results from tables at shows, just….on and on, we are all part of the phish community and thus all we do contributes in many ways…i see my personal contribution as a recorder of history in a sense….a paperful of memories!”


Image via the artist’s Facebook page

For each concert, he creates a unique fish design. Each of these fish serves as a scrapbook of sorts, documenting the venue and time of the event for phans. Ryan’s fish art represents the social aspect of music, because it contributes to the unity and values of the music scene. Fish print by fish print, show by show, Kerrigan fosters something greater than his art; this is the sociality of music.

In Why Music Moves Us, Bicknell discusses how social factors shape our attitude toward music and art in general. My interview with Kerrigan provides a great example of how childhood experiences can influence our encounters with art later in life. He remembers back to junior high school, when his mother bought him a calendar full of posters from the 1960’s San Francisco Fillmore days. This calendar planted the seeds of his career. He cannot recall a time when he was not an artist. Carrying on his family’s tradition of valuing art, Kerrigan’s daughter Anona, is growing up seeing her father as an artist. This will shape the importance she places on art. He hopes to pass along “art as an action that can bring about remarkable introspection, as well as the plain peacefulness of just letting go.”


Image via the artist’s Facebook page

Whether you agree with Tolstoy’s definition of art, we can all agree the importance of shaping the next generation’s worldview to value it. Ryan Kerrigan’s commitment to sharing his talents with his daughter and the Phish community exemplifies the power of art. In other words, Kerrigan’s artwork reveals how art binds us, as family and “phamily” alike.

Interview Transcript

What emotions are you hoping come across in your artwork?

peacefulness, basically… not necessarily through calmness or laziness (though there are exceptions) but rather through provoking the viewing to think, ideally in a positive manner, about the imagery and further, about themselves

Would you consider the art you create for bands as beautiful? Why/why not?

yes and no… can strive for beautiful, or you may seek something more stark…depends on the gig really….i often try to incorporate something geographically relevant to the gig, such as the gorge for example (see this year’s gorge print attached)….the beauty of the venue itself screams to be drawn and celebrated…in this case, yes, this poster was intended and achieved some level of “beautiful”….i also created a shirt with a more fleshed out image of the gorge, again, to honor the scene ….i think my art tends to lean one of two different ways…either thoughtful, or whimsical…i suppose either can be beautiful, but either way , always positive…there’s too much negativity eager to bombard us every day, even within art, and very prevalent within my specific field, the non-specific umbrella of “music art”….you won’t see guns and blood in my work

Have you ever considered using digital programs for your artwork? Why/why not?

i use computers for the sake of communication, and to curate a viewable collection of my work (

i try to minimize the amount of time a use up staring at a box of light!

and i like the feel of my hands on paper, working with a piece until it feels right….digital programs have their place, for sure, but i am much more attracted to artwork where it looks like the artist held the art

How do you see your contribution as enhancing Phish’s community?

my art, just as your dancing, just as charitable results from tables at shows, just….on and on, we are all part of the phish community and thus all we do contributes in many ways…i see my personal contribution as a recorder of history in a sense….a paperful of memories!

From my research, I see you have a daughter. What aspects of art do you see as important to pass down to the next generation? 

ha, wow, great question…..all aspects? can that be my answer? i truly don’t know how i would function on this planet if not for a lifelong habit of daily artistic expression and creation…it is my constant, my therapy, my water, my school, my church….art is where i am the most ME…..i draw with my daughter anona and i can see a familiar intense surrender to the muse, and i see she’ll find the same comfort within art as i always have

it’s important that we understand art as an action that can bring about remarkable introspection, as well as the plain peacefulness of just letting go….and it truly doesn’t matter at all what the end product looks like… really is about the journey

For each concert’s “happy fish,” how are you inspired to make each one unique in its own way even though they are the same shape and for the same band?

i want the fishy to be representative of the event, beyond the date and info shown…if the venue itself inspires me i like to include that in some way…or perhaps it’s the surrounding area…i love having a geographical reference….in fact that’s what bothers me the most in the world of music posters ~ when there is nothing at all relevant about the imagery in conjunction with the event …you should be able to tell what the event is just by looking at it

the actual shape of the fish is completely random, in the sense that i am just letting my hand do the work without any preconceived notion of what’s happening, sometimes with better results than others! but i love the snowflake-like variations and the challenge of then fitting in the info

I am always fascinated by how one’s childhood shaped their path. Where you always interested in art or drawing on whatever was near? If not, what was the catalyst moment that caused you to decide to become an artist

i can’t recall not being an artist, and thus i never really considered becoming an artist because i always felt like one….it wasn’t until the hopeful baseball career fizzled out after high school that i realized, hmm, i guess art is what i’ll be doing! immediately upon beginning college i began creating artwork for bands and here we are 25 years later and i’m creating artwork for bands 🙂

i drew everything from my family to baseball players, the houses in my neighborhood….thankfully my parents managed to save a lot of that old stuff!

i look back to a particular event in junior high however, as a kind of foreshadowing of what was to come down the road…my mom bought me a calendar that was filled with posters from the 1960’s san francisco fillmore days…one big poster for every month…i was fascinated…with the art, the bands, the whole scene, the artists that created these magnificent works of art….that calendar planted a seed…..then a few years back, i began creating posters for the fillmore 🙂  full circle  ….i’ll attach a few of my fillmore prints as well.


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