Ryan Wilks is a self-taught artist based in Kansas City, Missouri. Their work explores the various realities of queer existence. Primarily creating with oils, watercolors, sculptural assemblage, and ritual, their work sheds light on queer expression of spirituality and sexuality. Their bodies of work address and confront religion used as weapon and explores new modes of prayer through visual and participatory exhibitions. While religious and archetypal iconography such as the Devil and Lilith are seen within their figures in their paintings and used to express gender and queer ideologies, the work itself does not adopt the feeling of weighted religious rites. Instead, the work invites the viewer to participate in a modernized expression of spirit.
Through figurative and narrative drawing and painting, through community-based performance ritual and ceremony, Wilks makes art that explores the various realities of queer existence. Gleaning inspiration from centuries old religious iconography and the oral and written histories documenting the queer experience from the beginning of time to their own personal experience today, Wilks’ work strives to depict the push/pull, persecute/elevate relationships of humanity, sexuality, and spirituality.
The use of more traditional materials and methods in Wilks’ painting and drawing is an intentional nod to Italian masters such as Caravaggio, Titian, and Raphael, but it is the playfulness of Matisse’s figures and the contorting figures of Schiele that have influenced their work the most.
Ritual and ceremonial performance is an integral aspect of Wilks’art. The use of objects, both found and made, and base elemental ingredients in occult practices are key components to their performances. Through movement, through ceremony, through studied and adaptive ritual, Wilks is able to engage an audience and create moments of sacred memory. Wilks’ performance work is created and displayed in tandem with their 2-D work and further explores concepts displayed within their paintings and drawings.
Through these methods of creating, engagement, and display of their art, Wilks strives to express the personal narrative of their queer experience, of their peers’, of those who have passed, and, ultimately, for future generations to research, decode, confront, and enjoy.
Wilks has exhibited their work in at least 20 different solo exhibitions across the Kansas City Metropolitan area as well as being featured in 18 different publications regarding their work. Wilks’ most recent artist residencies include the Artist in Residence program at the Crossroads Hotel, located in the heart of Kansas City’s well known Crossroads Arts District, January-Febuary 2020; and the Artist in Residence program at Arts KC, Jun-July 2020. In 2019, Wilks was nominated for “Best Exhibition” in the Pitch KC’s annual “Best of KC” year-end round up for their exhibition “Hell”, originally shown at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center.