Along with a world-class football team and motor speedway, Indianapolis is endowed with a world-class sculptor and artist in Bill Ryder. Ryder is an artist and grass-roots activist whose approach to art sets an example for the whole community. He has chosen to live in a stressed urban neighborhood in an attempt to revitalize it from within. Sweeping the sidewalk when young kids embark on the school bus is above all a daily ritual designed to instill pride and dignity and promote a solid work ethic. And he has spared no effort to expose neighborhood youth to art, hoping it will turn into a collective healing experience.
Few of us will ever gain the type of independence achieved by Bill Ryder. Truly a “self-made” man, Ryder has established a lifestyle for himself where he is in control of his destiny. As an artist he controls all aspects of his trade, from the mining of the raw materials for his exquisite “found object” sculptures to the gallery where his work is displayed. His studio, near the corner of 34th and Clifton, is where he lives, creates and exhibits his artwork.
“I try to work the weather,” he said in a recent interview. While most of us are challenged to keep pace with a calendar, e-mail, snail mail, cell phone, Blackberry, etc., Ryder has managed to free himself from constraints imposed by man and takes on the opportunities and challenges provided by the forces of nature, experiencing life on a slightly different plane. He accomplishes this with integrity and has not lost touch with his creative muse.
Much of his work is inspired by jazz, which Ryder describes as a salve that coated his body and helped to relieve the pain inflicted by the racism he experienced throughout his life. His many tributes to the likes of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker as well as “The Unknown Blues Singer” emphasize the unique contribution of African-Americans to the culture of this nation. Ryder’s deliberate decision to produce large-scale pieces can be understood as a search for ethnic visibility and recognition. If his entire life has been a struggle to overcome social prejudices, no wonder his work depicts this important dimension of the black experience.
Ryder’s technique fits into an aesthetic of recycling. One could claim that his interest in found objects originated out of scarcity. The true reason is of a spiritual nature. Such a method is both a ferocious critique of our consumer society and a strong environmental statement — “dead” objects are reincarnated into art while this “scavenger” attitude calls for a change in our worldview.
Bill Ryder’s art depicts a philosophy in action, a true art of living.
—Frederic Allamel and Charlie Wiles