Rickey Gates and the Art of Running

In this new series, Hannah Green chats with artist and runner Rickey Gates about movement as art, his home in New Mexico, and aspen trees.

By on March 14, 2024 | Comments

[Editor’s Note: Today, we’re stoked to launch a new article series by iRunFar’s Hannah Green about the intersection of running and the arts. Naturally, we’re calling this series, “The Art of Running.” We kick off via an interview with one of trail running’s artistic icons, American trail runner and movement artist Rickey Gates.]

Rickey Gates! Or rickey gates — he doesn’t like to capitalize things.

I’m super excited to get this new article series going, where art and athletics collide. For a while I thought art and running were two disparate things, but I just I hadn’t met the folks who dabbled in both.

Enter Rickey Gates.

Rickey gates transamericana selfie

Rickey Gates pauses for a selfie in the desert during his “TransAmericana” run. All photos courtesy of Rickey Gates.

I met Rickey during the Hardrock 100 one of my first years living in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. He wandered around the tiny village of Silverton, where the race starts and finishes, playing the accordion alongside Erik Skaggs’ guitar.

Rickey is not only a fast runner, he’s a creative; coming up with projects outside of racing that turn running into a medium. “Every Single Street,” “TransAmericana,” and his group trips like “Hut Run Hut” and his “Santa Fe Fastpack” all similarly use the movement of running to get to know a place — like really know it.

I spoke to Rickey about art and running, so here’s his take:

-what’s your medium?

I have a lot of different mediums or ways I like to express myself. I’ve come to realize that art can take many different forms and that we are often times creating art and expressing ourselves and we just don’t label it as such. I studied photography in college. I took some writing classes at the same time. I guess those were my initial exposures (no pun intended) to art.

It wasn’t until I did my project “Every Single Street” that I started to look at my own and others’ movement as a form of art — as the medium through which ideas, bigger than running itself, can be explored and expressed.

Rickey Gates Every Single Street hand drawn maps

Using printed out maps and a pen, Rickey Gates ran every street in San Francisco, California, as part of his “Every Single Street” project.

-what artists have inspired you? what runners/athletes/movers have inspired you? 

In recent years, I’ve been most inspired by a contemporary walking artist from the U.K. by the name of Hamish Fulton. He seems to appreciate the perfection of nature in all of their rhythms. To pass through nature, with intention and mindfulness, is the height of expression. He neither takes nor adds while on his walks that have ranged in distance from a few miles to several hundred. A simple text-over-photo image reporting the simple details of the walk is all that he leaves us with.

-how did you get into running?

I got into running because I was terrible at soccer. Team sports was what I did in middle school. I transferred school districts going into high school and it seemed like a great time to try out different sports. Immediately, I felt more at home on the cross-country team. The coaches were also really wonderful. They had a sense of humor and sportsmanship. They both loved the trails, so at least twice a week we’d be running the incredible trails around Aspen, Colorado.

-how do you see art and running as being related? (i think of “TransAmericana” as one of your works.) and maybe how has that evolved since you’ve been doing them?

Art and running, in their deepest forms, are related in that they both require endurance and suffering. Both require you to engage in practice even when, or especially when, you don’t want to. Both require the fatigue, frustration, boredom, and self-doubt to push you mentally and physically into deeper realms.

-what’s your favorite mode of transportation besides running?

Mountain biking. No, wait, skiing.

-favorite color?

Drab green.

Rickey Gates and Kyle Skaggs playing music before Hardrock 100

Both artists and runners, Rickey Gates and Kyle Skaggs play music in Silverton, Colorado, ahead of the Hardrock 100.

-where do you go to see local art where you now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico? 

Santa Fe has many different types of artistic institutions — each of which suggest a different vision of what the land and myriad people evoke. Artists are born here, migrate here, pilgrimage here and as a result, in addition to the more popular images associated with northern New Mexico, there is also a gentle sub-current of expression. In short, most of the great artwork I’ve seen here in Santa Fe has been in makeshift galleries in the artist’s garage or a warehouse performance.

Of course, Meow Wolf is a must. I’m not saying that because my wife works there … but as a result of working there, we’ve gotten to know many of the people behind the scenes — each, in their own way, making art more accessible to the general public. We like to go there for music — not only do they bring in amazing acts, but to be able to experience the exhibit in a more cozy, evening setting is really wonderful.

There is also a photo/book gallery that I love. Photo Eye — it’s located conveniently close to Meow Wolf. They have a bunch of small edition photo books for sale which I almost never buy. But they don’t seem to mind me flipping through the pages.

-random question: if you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

Hmmm, probably an aspen tree. I grew up with them. I love how visibly they experience the four seasons and that they are family trees — roots interconnected. I have always loved places where aspen trees grow — because we like the same places? Or do I love those places because the aspen trees are there? Something tells me the aspen trees aren’t asking this same question.

Call for Comments

  • Do you consider your running as a type of art?
  • How have you added creativity to your running?
  • What runner artists would you like to see featured in this new article series!?
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Hannah Green
Hannah Green wanders long distances by foot and takes photos along the way. When not outside, you can likely find her at the nearby coffee shop. Find more on Instagram and at Hannah Green Art.