Edmonton artist Ryan McCourt is best known for his constructed metal sculptures. These works range from abstract and figurative welded steel sculptures, to polychrome reliefs made from crushed aerosol cans, to elegant assemblages and wearable helmets made from soldered brass. His two-dimensional work includes photography, vexillography, and ambiguous illustration. McCourt is the founder of the North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop, a co-operative shared studio, and Common Sense, an artist-run gallery. He has received numerous awards, and his creative works can be found in a number of public and private collections in Canada, the United States, and beyond.
Ryan David McCourt was born in Edmonton in 1975, the youngest of Ken and Sheelagh McCourt’s five children. Reading by age two, McCourt was soon identified by educators as possessing advanced intellectual and academic abilities. McCourt excelled throughout his schooling in Edmonton, at Patricia Heights Elementary, Hillcrest Junior High, and Jasper Place High. Early travels outside of Canada, to Asia in the 80s, and Europe and Africa in the 90s, continued to inform McCourt’s innate cosmopolitan humanism.
McCourt explored a broad range of subjects at the University of Alberta (from Engineering, Genetics, and Computing Science, to Music, Drama, Religion and Philosophy), before ultimately completing his formal education with a focus on visual art. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1997, and his Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture in 1999, as a student of British sculptor Peter Hide, in Edmonton’s renowned modernist tradition of constructed sculpture.
In 2000, McCourt mounted his first post-university solo exhibition, and received the Helen Collinson Memorial Award for his artwork. McCourt was Artistic Coordinator for the award-winning art festival The Works Art Expo 2001 in Edmonton.
In 2002, McCourt founded the North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop, a cooperative shared-studio project focused on facilitating the creation and promotion of contemporary sculpture. The NESW independently produced the unprecedented “Big Things” outdoor sculpture series at the Royal Alberta Museum from 2002 to 2006.
In 2003, McCourt taught Visual Fundamentals at the University of Alberta. In 2004, alongside Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, McCourt unveiled a privately commissioned, 18-foot-tall monumental sculpture entitled A Modern Outlook, at 18550-118A Avenue in Edmonton. In 2005, McCourt organized the Alberta Centennial Sculpture Exhibition at the Royal Alberta Museum, and exhibited his sculptures in the United States for the first time, at Sculpturesite Gallery in downtown San Francisco.
In 2006, McCourt was the first artist invited to display sculpture for one year outside Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre. McCourt’s solo exhibition, Will and Representation, was an installation of four large sculptures based on Ganesha, a deity from Hindu mythology.
Ten months into the exhibition, then-Mayor of Edmonton Stephen Mandel ordered the works removed after reportedly receiving a 700-name petition complaining of the sculptures’ “disrespectful” nudity. (Despite this governmental censorship being a clear violation of Charter-enshrined universal rights to free expression, this religiously discriminatory ban was officially reiterated by the City of Edmonton in 2014, thus further subjecting McCourt’s artwork to illegitimate government censorship.)
In 2008, McCourt opened Common Sense, a gallery space at 10546 – 115 street in downtown Edmonton. With a mandate to give 100% of proceeds from art sales to exhibiting artists, Common Sense does not fit the mold of either a commercial gallery or a traditional artist run centre. According to Vue Weekly, “Common Sense is not actually an artist-run centre in any official sense, but a space run by artists in the old-fashioned sense…. essentially an artist’s wet dream in our space-deprived city.” That same year, McCourt won the Connect2Edmonton “Column of the Year” award for writing on the visual arts in Edmonton, and married the Edmonton artist Nola Cassady.
In 2009, McCourt was awarded First Prize in the ‘Headdress’ category of the Wearable Art Awards in Port Moody, British Columbia, for The Helmet of Laocoön. In 2010, he and his wife Nola welcomed the birth of their daughter. In 2011, McCourt was named one of Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 by Avenue Edmonton for his support of local artists and his encouragement of critical discourse.
In 2012, McCourt exhibited his artwork at Calgary’s Leighton Centre. In 2013, McCourt’s sculpture “The Equilibrist” was included in the Edmonton Contemporary Artists’ Society’s 20th annual exhibition. In 2014, McCourt travelled to view art in San Francisco, New York City, and most notably, the Clement Greenberg Collection in Portland, Oregon. In 2015, McCourt’s art was shown in “Brain Storms,” a survey exhibition of selected University of Alberta alumni.
In 2016, McCourt’s award winning Edmontonian Flag was presented to Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson by Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations Grand Chief Randy Ermineskin, “as a symbol of their commitment to collaboration, respectful dialogue and exploring shared opportunities” and “to symbolize a new dawn in Nation-to-Nation relationship building.”
In 2017, Edmonton City Council considered adopting McCourt’s Edmontonian Flag as the new official city flag of Edmonton; McCourt exhibited new brass sculptures in a solo exhibition at Common Sense; and for the first time, publicly exhibited a number of ambigram designs in a group show at Bleeding Heart Art Space. McCourt was honoured to become a Hambidge Fellow after undertaking a four-week residency at the Hambidge Centre for Creative Arts and Sciences in Georgia, USA.
In 2018, McCourt exhibited the sculptures and photographs he had produced in Georgia in an exhibition entitled “Hambidge Suite” at Common Sense. That year, McCourt undertook his second artist residency, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, Newbliss, County Monaghan, Ireland, the country of his ancestors for countless centuries.
In 2019, The Local Cannabist, Edmonton’s premiere independent cannabis retailer, opened to the public featuring a comprehensive brand identity designed by Ryan McCourt. That same year, McCourt mounted his first solo exhibition of sculptures in Calgary. In 2020, McCourt was invited to participate in an artists’ residency in Rajasthan, India, but was unable to attend, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Remaining in Edmonton, McCourt designed and produced the MMA-themed board game, Hexagon Fighting Championship.
In 2021, The Establishment Brewing Company, Calgary’s premier craft brewery, selected artwork by McCourt to feature in their unique barrel-aged beer label program: “Root Down” and “Ramblin’ Rose” are two new brews that feature his label artwork. McCourt’s recent poetry appears in a new anthology, “Shakespeare of Today”, and more of his ambiguous artworks are featured in the current edition of The Antonym online magazine.