Ryan Singer is a Native American painter, but don't confuse him with R.C. Gorman or some other traditionalist you see hanging in downtown Scottsdale galleries. Toss a hit or two of acid at Gorman, and you're getting close.
Singer grew up on the Navajo reservation. Today he paints in a tiny apartment in Mesa. His roots are visible on the wall, in a huge yellow caution sign he's painted with a burning wagon in the middle. Singer painted it after a former co-worker called him a "wagon burner." The slur stuck with him, and he created the painting as a logo for his art.
"It's kind of humorous but serious at the same time," Singer says of the logo. "People can decide how they take it -- some people get offended, others think it's great," he says. That piece is an example of the offbeat influence Singer's heritage has on his work.
"A native guy in a cowboy hat riding a bull is obvious," he says. "Anyone can paint that. Native art has been rehashed for years and nothing new ever comes out."
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Singer's trying hard to change that. One of his paintings depicts a saguaro wearing a cowboy hat and spurs, riding a mechanical bull in the middle of an imaginary ocean. In the bottom corner of the painting, a sly effigy of Columbus' ship the Santa Maria floats upside down.
Another painting, titled Nonsense on the Road, depicts a Native man driving a Cadillac through an otherworldly desertscape while a buxom Amazon leers at him from the side of the road.
Singer has had more and more success lately selling his work, but has a hard time letting go of his paintings. He touches one tenderly and says, "My paintings are almost like little kids -- I don't want to sell them or give them up."
A real newborn son -- whose nursery is set up in an adjacent bedroom -- might change that sentiment quickly for Singer. In fact, he's got a one-man show, "Persistence of Paradox," opening Friday, October 1, at the ASU Downtown Center, 502 East Monroe -- if you'd care to contribute to the junior Singer's college fund.