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Ryan Heimbach: a Festival exhibitor’s perspective

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Scott Brashier

Ryan Heimbach strikes me as a young person with an old soul. Unlike many young people, he knows what he doesn’t know, and seeks to learn the answers. He’s the first person I’ve talked with in a long time who actually calls himself an apprentice.

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Ryan Heimbach

The apprentice has enormous respect for his mentor, Festival artist and award-winning sculptor, Andrew Myers. “I didn’t think of art until I worked with Andrew,” Ryan says. Myers taught Ryan technique and logistics and the ins and outs of the art world, while Ryan developed his own artistic voice. Since 2008 Ryan has worked on many of Meyers’ big projects, finding inspiration along the way. 

“I did whatever he was a part of. He inspires me,” says Ryan. 

In “old soul” fashion, Ryan thoroughly appreciates his mentor’s finished works. “Even though my name’s not on it, I’m not that kind of guy,” he says. 

An artist breaks out

Apprentice he may be, but Ryan is accomplished enough to have found his artistic passion, with talent to match. He’s one of the youngest artists ever selected to show at the Festival of Arts, garnering accolades and art patrons along the way.

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His piece this year, titled Breaking Through, is a cast bronze, plaster, and stainless steel sculpture of hands emerging from the wall. A narrative piece in three parts, the first hand is clenched around an egg, moving on to the next hand with the egg cracking, while the third hand presents a fist emerging from within the egg it holds. It’s provocative sculpture, and draws queries and dialog with the patrons at the Festival.

“I think it’s my mental mindset,” said Ryan. “I want to take things further and break through.” 

Art emerges

He grew up in Laguna Canyon, the son of a single mom, Diane DeBilzan, who had a gallery in Laguna for many years. His uncle is the artist William DeBilzan. Ryan was surrounded and nurtured by art before he realized he, too, was one of their kind. 

“I grew up doing cartoons, and copying things. I just enjoyed it,” he says. “I tried to be precise to what it was. I saw something and I could recreate it. When Andrew showed me techniques, I started to look at every little detail, every shape.”

Any figurative sculptor will tell you certain body parts require more attention to detail than others. “Sculpting hands and faces are the hardest thing.” Ryan laughs. And that’s what I do!”

Plus there is a story to tell with the hands. “There are so many emotions you can create with the hand – the fist shows power, or pushing through with strength.”

This year’s Festival piece, Breaking Through, represents just that emotion. The hand holds an egg that at first is solid like a stone, then it starts to crack, and then it’s polished and gleaming in its final incarnation, a new fist emerging as if to say, Yes, I can! 

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“It’s like when you think you’ve broken through,” explains Ryan. “But you can still do more. Breaking through can be positive, like finding a cure for something, or mentally battling with something and then emotionally breaking through.

“I left it a little open so it would be universal.”

There’s something mathematical to his sculptural precision: an understanding of proportions and dimensions. Ryan seems to have a left brain/right brain thing going on. Not surprisingly, while at Laguna Beach High School he won awards for accounting and pottery.

Personal breakthroughs

“I wanted to do something I could relate to,” Ryan says about his Festival exhibit.

He was remembering his own challenges. One was when he thought it would be a good idea to go live with his dad in Florida. He gave it a try – taking the only job he could find there: working the graveyard shift at Lowe’s. 

Working at night, sleeping in the day. “It was not my thing,” he says, simply.

He pushed through and worked his way back to Laguna, knowing it was his true home and knowing he would have to work hard to stay.

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“I like being in ‘clutch moments’,” he said. “I can handle problem solving like that. I don’t want charity. Nothing is owed to me. I always want to feel I’ve earned something.” Old soul.

Ryan’s first year at the Festival was 2011, and he was the youngest exhibitor. As one might imagine a young artist would do, he was still emerging his style and decided to change things up for the following year. He experimented with a different sculptural style, but it was not received well. Ryan was juried out. 

“The one year out made me think, and I pushed myself even harder,” he said. “I didn’t hide away or stop doing art. The experience showed me that this isn’t the end; it’s a stepping stone.” Breakthrough.

Pushing on

The greatest sense of satisfaction is when an artist feels “on”. For Ryan, that joy and artistic focus is often born out of frustration or a struggle, but the process of creation pushes past any negativity.

“I like to focus my passion into my art, and not speed through it. I like testing my patience…I push through and get into the rhythm.”

Ryan believes that artists should be proactive and keep pushing themselves. 

“And not worry about what people are thinking,” he says. “Artists have ideas but no money. That struggle is one of the biggest things artists have to face. But you just have to go for it. It’s like going to the gym!”

Now in his fourth year as a Festival exhibitor, Ryan is feeling good about the response Breaking Through has had. 

“I hope this show will inspire thought even more,” he says. 

And he smiles. “A lot of people are totally ‘getting it’. Less talking for me!”