Sparking a Conversation: Ryan Wilks

Opening July 1, Gender Treason is artist Ryan Wilk's exploration of the queer spectrum through his paintings and the literary transcriptions that accompany them. We discuss the exhibit, the challenges that came along with it, and the Kansas City art community.

1. Tell us a little background on your Gender Treason Exhibit. What inspired this project? What is your favorite piece? What are some challenges you've encountered with this project?

I've always been an effeminate man, and feel uncomfortable even using the word man to describe myself because nothing about me falls under the social constructs assigned to that word. I've felt out of place my whole life. My process of understanding what queer is and where I fall in the queer spectrum didn't start until Gender Treason began in September of 2015. Gender Treason is an exploration of the queer spectrum using visual art (paintings) and literary transcriptions of queer people who live in Kansas City. My favorite piece so far is a full body nude of one of the subjects of Gender Treason who wished to remain anonymous. To keep his anonymity I blocked out his face with color and focused on communicating the body language of his interview, in which he discussed his HIV status and how it has affected him. That piece holds a special place in my heart because this person trusted in me to share his story publicly without revealing who he is. This project has been the most challenging and eye opening thing I've ever embarked on. The ways in which it has pushed me, guided me, lead me to understanding, and grown my skill level visually are incalculable.

2. Is there an artist that you admire? How did you develop your style? Was it through formal schooling or drawing inspiration from other sources/artists?

I've always admired the photographer, Richard Avedon. His compositions of the human form in relation to the space surrounding them have greatly influenced how I compose my own paintings. I'm self-taught in the sense that I've never gone to school for painting, but I have traveled the country learning everything I could about art from other artists. My style though came organically. The colors choose themselves and work themselves through and out of me.

3. Of all of the interviews you conducted for Gender Treason, is there one that particularly stands out to you?

All of the interviews were incredible, though one does stand out to me. I had the profound honor of meeting, interviewing, photographing, and painting a queen legend in Kansas City named Terri Wilson. Terri was known in her performing days as Echo, and she told me about her transition from Male to Female, about her service in the military, about her stroke brought on by hormones which paralyzed her, and about her days getting crowned as Echo. The first thing she said in her interview was, "I've had a pretty great life, mostly ups. Not a lot of downs." Her journey and aptitude for joy inspires me.

4. What impression would you like to leave Kansas City with after this exhibit and through your art in general?

That it takes courage to look deep within yourself, and even more when you allow what you find to mold you.

5. What drew you to Kansas City? What keeps you here?

I was living in San Francisco when I moved back to KC in 2013. What brought me back was a culmination of several things, but mostly art. I stay because Kansas City is my home now. I'll live other places undoubtedly but I will always come home.

6. What do you think of the local art community here in Kansas City? Have you found it welcoming? How does it compare to the other cities in which you have lived?

I think art saved Kansas City, and I think Kansas City knows this. An interesting relationship with artists and Kansas City has sprung from this mutual understanding that we need each other, and we must work together. I would say that this city's art community is the most warm and inviting community I have ever been a part of, and it has saved me.

7. My final question is always the same. Who else in Kansas City deserves some recognition?

Poet Jen Harris is an incredible spoken and written word poet who has helped and inspired countless people in this city.

FeaturesKatie McLiney