HuffPo has an interesting interview with NYC artist, photographer, and nightlife personality Ryan Burke – whom many consider the heir apparent to Leigh Bowery’s clubland throne. They talked about his artistic influences, the evolution of New York nightlife, and how his views differ from, oh, a certain recently released prisoner we know.
What kind of work do you tend to produce? How would you say nightlife influences or informs your art?
I still consider myself a photographer first. I find inspiration in everything but usually it is the abstract nature of things that inspires me. I don’t really care for glasses even though my eyesight isn’t great so I see the world in a kind of soft blur of color. Anything can become a reference for a look and I just build off of small and abstract shapes.
Nightlife is a huge influence on me and the art I produce. The whole idea that you can change your appearance and become something else was demonstrated to me by the nightlife community, who also encouraged my own exploration of ideas. Nightlife has motivated and supported my development. The people I’ve met have inspired me and many have influenced and changed my perspective of the world, gender identity and personal style. I hope to inspire and motivate others by what I do in the same way. But what I encourage isn’t becoming a nightlife socialite — it’s becoming a person who is free to express themselves in whatever way makes them feel the most amazing and comfortable. It doesn’t have to be restricted to just clubs, but clubs are a wonderful place to start and be inspired.
During his feature, which ran earlier this series, original Club Kid Michael Alig told HuffPost: “It seems like nightlife hasn’t really evolved in the past 15 years. I have a whole theory about that. My theory is that we are witnessing the end of our Western cultural dominance in the world and that we’ve gone as far as we can with our Western lifestyle as far as decadence, fashion, style, stuff like that. We’ve done every kind of fashion imaginable from miniskirts to maxi skirts, from peg leg pants to bell-bottoms, from black lipstick to glossy lipstick –everywhere in-between. The only things we can do right now are kind of different variations of the same model and we’ve even done that already. “ — How do you respond to this? Do you agree with him?
I’m no expert on the history and development of nightlife so I can only offer my observation from my own experience. Michael is right in that we have explored every aspect of Western cultural dominance in the world — but I don’t see that as an end to innovative ideas. Everyone has their own reason for dressing up and being part of it. I do it because it’s an innate part of me as a person. I’ve loved dressing up my entire life. Even when I started dressing up to go out, I did it before seeing “Party Monster” or knowing what Club Kids are. Because of this, I don’t draw upon their aesthetic very much. What I do has more of an organic feel to it and I draw my ideas from nature and abstraction.
My creative partner and friend Domonique is a designer and is part of nightlife as a way of exposing others to her designs and fashion ideas. She loves to combine elements from several cultures and eras to create looks that are both familiar and innovative at the same time. While nightlife has always been about freedom of expression and a release from the mundane, I feel that it has evolved in a sense that… it’s not about shocking people or being political, it’s about creating an environment where artists are free to express their ideas, perform, design, entertain and collaborate with each other. There is plenty of room for new ideas, as well as reinterpretation of what’s been done in new ways.
Michael Alig talked a bit about “subverting the establishment” and nightlife in political terms throughout his interview. Nightlife, for you, has never been about being political?
Nightlife, for me, has never been political. I don’t believe that when Club Kids are dressing up and doing drugs it’s about anything other than having fun. It’s just a party. For me, it’s a way of expressing my aesthetic and experimenting with the many ways that I can alter my appearance. Granted, it is definitely easier now than it was a few decades ago. People are more open-minded and that is partly a result of being exposed to this kind of self-expression.
I have been around a lot of club personalities in LA and New York by this point and I would have to say that very few — if any — are doing what they do to subvert the establishment or be political. We all support equality and freedom of expression, of course, and nobody wants to be controlled and monitored by the government, but I find that the majority of club personalities do what they do simply because they love it. They love showing off their ideas, their fashion, their makeup, their music, their outrageous personalities and being around people who appreciate them and understand where they are coming from. I don’t believe that nightlife has the potential to have much of an impact on politics. I think it is more about creating a breeding ground for artistic minds and giving them a group of like-minded peers that they can network and work with if they choose to do so. Otherwise, it’s just a way to escape and have fun.
Read the whole article here (along with dozens more pics).