Visual Arts

Native Twist

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."

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.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin