By Molly Butler

Something’s not quite right. A man stands in a greenhouse surrounded by plants, but the world looks alien and brittle. Plants are purple, not green. The lines are overstated, shaky. The very sky is falling. A Friend is just one of Ryan Woody’s warped and abstracted pieces hanging at the Fillin’ Station. Woody is February’s Artist of the Month.

Growing Up

Woody grew up in Waterloo, Iowa. He had an early interest in art and drawing, but often set that hobby aside.

“I was always interested in art as a kid. I’d draw here and there but I’d often get discouraged. I grew up thinking art had to be realistic. A landscape had to look just like a landscape, or a portrait had to look just like a person,” said Woody. “It wasn’t until later, with the rise of the internet and more exposure to other art forms, like abstract art, that I realized there was more to it.”

I’m drawn to harsh contrasts of color and noisy patterns and bending the images I’ve found into unrecognizable shapes or patterns. Ryan Woody

In high school Woody began making digital collages here and there but had trouble considering it more than just playing around. In 2018 he moved to Mankato and began studying graphic design at MSU Mankato. He wanted to focus on design work but quickly realized there was more he wanted to say.

“As I started to go down that road, I realized I had a style and a voice of my own and I realized I should make images that speak to me,” said Woody.

Today, Woody is finishing his last semester and is set to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Art- Printmaking.

Photo and art by Ryan Woody - Woodcut "On"
Photo and art by Ryan Woody – Woodcut “On”


In his artist statement, Woody describes the intense energy he portrays in his work.

“I’m drawn to harsh contrasts of color and noisy patterns and bending the images I’ve found into unrecognizable shapes or patterns. Bright colors and black lines are all I need sometimes,” said Woody.

He starts with an image; either an original photograph he’s taken, or maybe a repurposed image, like the ones he pulls from his trusty World Atlas. He describes his process as “digging.”

He plays with the image digitally, adjusting hues and saturations.

“I like to make them look a bit off,” said Woody.

Woody says some of his earlier work was intensely saturated.

“Someone called it ‘deep fried.’”

Photo and art by Ryan Woody - Bleach Zone
Photo and art by Ryan Woody – Bleach Zone

Sometimes the forest turns red, or the whole world sharpens until it shatters. Then Woody layers different images, sometimes adding color and smudging. One technique is to grab one part from the image and repeat it several times throughout the piece.

“I’m taking images, twisting and malforming them,” said Woody. “I use a lot of smudging and blending. I like distorting images until they illicit the emotion I’m after.”

Woody’s style changes a lot from piece to piece. It’s often abstract but some pieces, like his illustrations, snap back to a more solid but shaken reality.

“My illustrations are mostly derived from similar inspirations as my other work, but I get more of an opportunity to incorporate my sense of humor, which is very important for me to get out from time to time,” said Woody in his artist statement.

Each piece seems to explore similar emotions in a new way. Sometimes one image can be the seed for several vastly different works.

“Sometimes I start a collage with one image. I’ll have one file that ends up being five different pieces, and by the end none of them look remotely the same,” said Woody.

Photo and art by Ryan Woody - A Smudge on My Character
Photo and art by Ryan Woody – A Smudge on My Character

Noise and Nostalgia

While the images themselves are noisy and intense, the emotions they elicit are often somber, reflective, and melancholy. In his work he grapples with mental health and a sense of no return.

“There’s a lot of calling back to the past, worshiping the past. Nostalgia. Ruminating,” said Woody.

One of Woody’s greatest inspirations is the artist and musician, Brian Chippendale, the drummer and vocalist for the experimental noise rock band Lighting Bolt and graphic artist. Chippendale forgoes the standard microphone for a contact microphone, which alters the sounds of his warbles and nonsensical sounds. His graphic art is described as “surreal” and “dystopic” with splashes of humor. It’s no wonder Woody is inspired by this unconventional artist.

Photo and art by Ryan Woody - Woodcut "Waiting"
Photo and art by Ryan Woody – Woodcut “Waiting”

“The content of my work mostly comes from a place or feeling of over-stimulation or anxiety about things you can’t control. A lot of my work is inspired by past experiences that I used to dwell on, the state of my mental health, and feelings or beliefs, that I’ve grown from.”


Artist of the Month is a column by Molly Butler, in which she’ll be profiling the current displaying artist at one of MankatoLIFE’s favorite meeting spots, the Fillin’ Station in Mankato.


  • Molly Butler

    is a writer, gardener, and animal lover. She returned to the Mankato area after completing her MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University.


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