Ryan Singer’s colorful acrylic paintings combine traditional Navajo images with contemporary imagery. They’re on display in the show “Childhood Mythologies,” which opens at form & concept on March 29.
Now a resident of Albuquerque, Singer spent his childhood both on and off the Navajo reservation. He enjoyed summers with his grandparents, who lived west of Tuba City, Arizona and raised sheep.
“I would gather my toys and take them with me while I herded sheep all day for my grandparents,” recalls Singer, who often depicts his childhood toys in his paintings.
“I had all kinds of toys, like dinosaurs and Godzilla figures.”
Singer also is a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek. Darth Vader is part of his toolbox of images. Singer likes monsters, comic book characters and an array of pop culture archetypes. Many of them find their way into his work.
“When I start a new piece, I have an idea of what I might do,” he says. “I sketch out my initial idea or make a smaller painting as a study so I can get the color and layout down.
“Nothing in my work is exactly as it seems,” he continues. “I put little messages about racism and stereotypes in the paintings and throw in some historical context. My paintings are both subtle and in your face.”
While art has been his lifelong passion, Singer initially thought he would have a long career in forestry. He studied forestry at Northern Arizona University and worked for the U.S. Forest Service for five years. Disillusioned with the bureaucratic red tape he experienced, he decided to go back to school and major in art at Arizona State University.
Singer’s work, which is influenced by punk music and the underground art scene, has gained acceptance and awards through the years. It has been part of shows at the Phoenix’s Heard Museum Indian Market, San Antonio’s Briscoe Western Art Museum and SWAIA’s Santa Fe Indian Market. Singer received an artist fellowship from SWAIA in 2011.
“Although I enjoy seeing people’s reactions to my work, I just focus on what I see in my head and let my paintings work themselves out,” he says.