A portrait of the artist as a cement mixer

David Ryan is a cement mixer by day — he and his father own Ryan’s Concrete, supplying readymixed cement to “do-it-yourself-ers” — and a painter by early morning. The 35-year resident of Ventura grew up in Portland, Or., the son of a painter and a mother who was a fan of more agreeable weather.

The move seaside proved to be an inspirational one for Ryan, who finds that stimulating material is never very far off. The focus of his art is often one of his primary loves, the surf.

Reporter photographer Guy Kitchens was so taken with Ryan’s work when it was displayed at the Ventura Art Walk last spring, he decided to tag along with the artist for a day, watching the man smooth concrete, grab a cup of coffee and contemplate his work, and, of course, paddle out to a strong wave.

He was also there to see how Ryan’s day job and artistic life intersect.

Kitchens’ and Ryan’s work converge unexpectedly: Although Ryan lives next to his primary subject, he prefers to work from stills, admiring a photographer’s vision and attempting to similarly communicate a strong point of view in his own work.

For the man who once solidified a career in building custom homes simply by stopping by a construction site and offering his services, coming at painting as a renegade, as a go-getter, has proven successful.

And his dual life as business co-owner and artist comes naturally.

“I was mixing cement forever,” he reflects. “It sort of dawned on me — my destiny has been to be the mixer. I am the mixer.”

How does your work in the concrete business fit in with your artistic life?

It leaves me a lot of time. Rainy season’s coming up here. We don’t do as much business, you save money for your hobby. We have steady, regular customers. That way — it leaves me a lot of time to work on my hobbies. I’m actually down there all the time. Either selling or working with customers …

Is your goal to work primarily as an artist?

I haven’t thought about it that much. I’ve realized that it kind of doesn’t happen quickly. I’m actually getting my commercial driver’s license, which is a step up for my career, possibly even for my art. [Painting] is a hobby, but if it started to lean [toward a profession], I would put more energy into it.

All this glycee, and copying and prints — I used to say I wasn’t into that, but now, that’s what you have to do. Out of about 25, 30 of my paintings, I have about five that people really respond to. I guess I have to learn to paint faster, or get better at glycee.

Walk us through your painting process.

Usually, inspiration comes to me after a good night’s sleep when I get up at 4 a.m., make a pot of coffee. Most of my stuff got painted at 4 to 6 a.m.

I mostly get my inspiration out of surfing magazines, photographers, local or not; I can usually tell right from the cover if there’s a painting there. I recently used a cover that was a painting in and of itself

And I even do some of my own photography. One of my best photos — me and a former girlfriend at the time, we were in La Conchita at the pier that leads out to the manmade island. Later we were fighting over the photo, but she let me have it.

I never see that girl anymore. She hasn’t seen what the photo’s become.

You paint primarily from stills. Do you ever paint outdoors?

They’re trying to pump Ventura up as an artist city. I don’t see people actually coming up here to buy … My dad’s been painting for 40 years, and the people that buy art are a small group of people. And I haven’t really met them yet. I see a lot of lookie-loos.

I’m not a businessman yet.

How did you get started painting?

My dad is an artist, a really accomplished painter. I wanted to see if maybe it was hereditary. One day I picked up a brush. It took me four days; I painted a 16 by 20. It spoke to me.

I was painting three to four [paintings] a year, then it jumped up to 30. In the last couple years, I’ve done 60 pieces. Big and small — three feet by four feet, or six by seven inches. Almost all ocean scenes. The photographers have really gotten to me, the still moments the photographers captured on film. So that’s what did it. Fourteen years ago. I’ve been painting for 14 years.

How has the art market been for you? That is, have you been able to sell your art?

I have sold some paintings out of coffee shops. You never know who stops in to drink coffee. I sold two out of Badass [Coffee House] in a couple months. Originals. People have got my energy now on their walls …