Renowned Artist and Activist: Ray Troll

RAyTrollByMarc_2

Ray Troll knows what Alaska represents.

“It’s the last vestige of what America used to be. Untouched wilderness, indigenous cultures. There’s a reason we have people coming on the cruise ships and roads to see it and experience it and be revitalized by it.”


Ray’s Alaska adventure started in 1983, when he moved here to help his sister open a seafood retail store in Ketchikan. Ray soon turned to art to document his experiences in the unique fishing culture that permeated the town. Tucked away in a studio above a cannery, he could run downstairs and grab a fish and paint cartoonish scenes of fish in scientific detail.

“I was raised with a heavy dose of Mad magazine,” Ray says about his early successful designs. “I was riffing on pop culture and bringing it into the fishing world with snarky comments and surreal humor. There’s a unique sense of humor among fishermen. These bad puns would really resonate with folks. Within the fishing world, the Alaskan outdoor world, I wanted to speak to the entire audience. In other words, to sport fishers, commercial fishers, and people who just enjoy the fish. I also began to geek out and enjoy the science of things. I was reflecting Alaskan culture to Alaskans.”

In order to make some money, Ray drew on his experience as a printmaking major in college. He printed some of his “goofy designs” on shirts and took them to a local festival in Ketchikan. He sold every single item he had brought, and he knew he was onto something.

The deeper he dove into the topic, the more his audience developed. People sent photos of his posters and shirts gracing the walls on movie sets and emblazoning the chests of rock stars and actors. Daniel Radcliffe and Mick Mars rocked “Spawn Till you Die” shirts on camera. His posters and shirts popped up in Superbad, Pineapple Express, and the TV show Lost.

Ray realized over a period of several years that he was doing something that reality TV and most Alaskan artists could never achieve: a depiction of Alaska that both earned the respect and love of locals and captured the imaginations of people across the globe. It’s fun for Ray to see his designs featured in tabloids and magazines, but it’s what his work means to Alaskans that resonates with him.

“I feel my artwork speaks volumes about what I care about and what I do. I feel like I speak for Alaska a lot out there in the world. I like to defend what I love. I like to celebrate it. If you get people to love the outdoors you get them to protect it.”

“I’m just realizing too that I’ve been around long enough — been in Alaska 37 years — that there has been a generation or almost two generations brought up wearing my stuff. People send me stories about people being buried in my shirts,” Ray says.

This is important to Ray because it helps him to speak credibly to the world on behalf of Alaska. I mentioned one article that called him an “Ambassador for Alaska” and asked him what he thought about that responsibility.

“I feel my artwork speaks volumes about what I care about and what I do. I feel like I speak for Alaska a lot out there in the world. I like to defend what I love. I like to celebrate it. If you get people to love the outdoors you get them to protect it.”

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