Self fulfillment over monetary success
By Rick Abasta
ALBUQUERQUE-Ryan Singer is an uncompromising artist. He has made a name for himself in the native art scene one mind blowing painting at a time.
Singer, 35, is Bitter Water Clan born for Towering House Clan. His maternal grandfathers are Many Goats Clan and his paternal grandfathers are Salt Clan.
Originally from Tuba City, Singer resides in Albuquerque and lists his occupation as “starving artist.”
His art is represented at the Pop Gallery in Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Indian Market Gallery at Buffalo Thunder in Pojoaque.
Living the artist lifestyle is total liberty, he said.
“To me, art is the complete freedom to express yourself and/or anything you want in any artistic form,” Singer said. “I choose to use paint and canvas, or ink/lead on paper.”
Ideas for his art germinate from practically anywhere, like movies, music, magazines and books. Sometimes, the ideas come from dreams, he said.
“The ‘Wagon Burner’ image actually came from a dream,” Singer said.
He was referring to the “Wagon Burner,” a piece he created in Oct. 2003, which is quite possibly his most iconic piece to date.
Designed in the yellow and black nomenclature of a road sign, the piece features a wagon on fire. Not only is the piece slick, but biting as well, in its depiction of sharp Indian wit.
Another piece titled “Play Navajo,” features the dioramic plastic figure design of the Fisher Price toy set, complete with a hogan and sheep corral.
The 2008 painting of the “Hooghan Play Set” won the 2008 Adult Smile Award from the Santa Fe Indian Market.
The revelations of artistic expression are painted in the kitchen of Singer’s studio apartment, in downtown Albuquerque.
He calls his place the “Hansel and Gretel House.”
To supplement his art, Singer sometime works as a part time security for concerts downtown.
His job allows him the opportunity to see some of his favorite bands front row, center. Bands like Teenage Bottlerocket, Logical Nonsense and Pretty Boy Thorson.
Live music plus daily life equals remarkable art.
Singer’s hipster lifestyle is splashed across the canvas in his art, with most pieces reflecting the duality of native existence.
“I believe the reason my art is popular with the younger generation is because it’s new, fresh. Plus the pop art imagery, robots, and use of stereotypical images for empowerment,” he said.
He has about 200 paintings in his collection.
In June 2007, Singer’s illustrations for the children’s book, “Johonaa’ei” Bringer of Dawn,” was published by Salina Bookshelf, along with author Veronica Tsinajinnie.
At the start of 2008, Native Peoples magazine used “Generations” for the cover of their Jan. issue. The painting is a close up of a female native elder, with the lines of age telling the story of generations.
“Generations” also happens to be one of Singer’s personal favorites.
“The paintings with people/faces are extremely hard because getting all the right proportions and details just right are sometimes painstaking,” he said. “If I can pull it off, then it was worth it.
“That’s the real satisfaction,” he added.
Singer’s tools of the trade include a record player, coffeemaker, lights and a little elbow grease. Blasting from the record player is Cringer or J-Church.
Music is a central component in everything he creates, as it should be.
For kids looking to become artists, he offers this advice, “You must first believe in yourself and the rest will follow.”
He admits there is no handbook on how to start and that it’s all a learning experience. Despite the peaks and valleys, always do your best work and believe in yourself, he emphasized.
“I just hope I can be doing art 10 years from now and hope it does get better with ideas and skill,” Singer said.
The chance to hit the art galleries of New York or L.A. are also in the plans, along with a trip to Europe.
Singer invests about 25 percent of his sales back into materials for new pieces, usually in the form of canvas, paints and t-shirts for promotional purposes.
He said the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area has been an important hub, offering rich culture with art, food and a special vibe.
“I guess what made me an artist is that I couldn’t do anything else better,” he said humbly.
To be a successful artist is to be able to make art and generate a comfortable living, he said.
His personal philosophy on art is staying true to form.
I don’t think monetary success is as important as self-fulfillment, he said.
“I want the youth to remember their culture and where they came from,” Singer said. “They can do anything they want, as long as they believe in themselves.”
Singer recalled his first fair experience back in the early 80s, checking out the parade and carnival with his parents.
I thought there are so many Navajos in this one huge place, he said.
“I got a fluorescent colored yardstick and a little plastic bird that you put water in and if you blew into it, it made a bird sound,” Singer said.
“I remember sitting right on the midway in the middle of the day, blowing that whistle and waiting for my parents to call it a day,” he said.
Those kinds of experiences are what shape us to become who we are, so of course the fair is a rite of passage for Navajo kids, he added.
And for leaders looking to make a difference in the lives of youth, the answer is simple.
“The best thing for a kid is encouragement,” Singer said. “My mother always got me art supplies and encouraged me. I think that was all it took.”