When I was a teenager, I heard about an underground dance club called Chupa in a sketchy part of downtown Phoenix where outcasts could be themselves. Like most teenagers, I didn’t know where I belonged, and I thought maybe I’d fit in with them. Like most teenagers, my family would have disapproved of the outcast-identity I envisioned for myself. So I waited until nightfall, slipped quietly out of my house, and drove downtown.
When I arrived that first night, I ran straight to the dance floor. Dancing was the only way I knew how to mask my terror. I saw another outcast who was costumed unlike any person I’d seen before. I spent the next hour inching toward him through the crowd until he finally took notice and asked my name. A few weeks later we kissed, and a few years after that we opened a gallery where I had my first solo show. We named the gallery Barlow & Straker, for the vampire antiques dealers in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. We were monsters, far from the centers, infecting the Southwestern desert with our vision of contemporary art.
Watching daytime TV talk shows, I discovered that there were other outcasts crafting their identities in New York City dance clubs. I began to fashion future lives in my imagination, plotting another escape. The day came. I waited until nightfall, said goodbye to my origins, and boarded a plane Downtown. When I arrived, I ran straight to the dance floor.
(You can move to the center, but can you outgrow the outcast-feeling?)
Now it’s 2018, and I am an artist in New York. That unusually dressed boy has a gallery Downtown. How fun, we thought, to do another show together.
I think that the artist I am now is not so different from that teenager learning all the right, wrong things. Maybe a little different. But this new show has all the same protagonists of the art I made back then: charming mutants, bodies out of joint, droll melancholy, all my fears.
Worry less and make more, says my younger self. Make what is pressing, even when you aren’t fully sure why. Let the rest figure itself out. When you’re scared, go dancing.
This one’s for you, teenage monster. – xoRMc
ASHES/ASHES is pleased to present I.L.L.I.S. & I.S.L.I.F. (It Looks Like It Sounds & It Sounds Like It Feels), a solo exhibition by Ryan McNamara. The exhibition will be on view from November 17 – December 23, 2018, with an opening reception on Saturday, November 17th from 6–8 PM.
Ryan McNamara lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. His work has been featured at MoMA PS1, Whitney Museum of American Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Kunstmuseum Bonn, The Kitchen, The High Line, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, ICA Boston, Pérez Art Museum Miami, ICA London, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, The Power Plant, and 2nd Athens Biennale. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.