Dressed like a club kid at a funeral, Nate Ryan was wearing all black, soft to jet, as he greeted me in a plush faux fur coat and striking platform boots. The 23-year-old, whose hair was a black to bleached ombre (like a dark play on NSYNC-era Justin Timberlake’s frosted tips), wears dark lipstick, a shade I later learn was both created for and named after him.
Even though he’s a painter, fine artist, and a dancer, Ryan’s hair and makeup work has become a favorite among San Antonio’s cool kids, from local vogue crew House of Kenzo (which is finally getting some much-deserved national attention, BTW) and the runway models at the local fashion awards. He's become the go-to artist for anyone looking for a distinct, avant garde look, from award-winning fashion designer Fabian Diaz to Style Lush’s Burgundy Woods and designer Zachry Smith.
But it's the grit and dank shadows of the underground that Ryan prefers. “I like my art to be really raw and not influenced by the mainstream in any way,” he says. And what makes Ryan's art so raw and is the feeling behind it. As a self-described “expressionist,” Ryan says makeup has become one of his ways to communicate, to make a point. "I tell everybody, if you want to know how I’m feeling, always look at the way I look," he says.
There's a certain dark humor to Ryan's work, an almost satirical tone that comes through. As he puts it, his makeup often "beautifies ugliness...I'm kind of throwing fashion back at fashion people's faces." He started playing with his signature "glitter tears" look after a friend passed away two years ago. For him, it was a true inspiration-through-pain moment. "I was really colorful and I’d do a lot of graphic liner, but after (the death), my makeup got gloomy to where I looked like I had sunken eyes."
Ryan spent his formative years in Monterey, Mexico before moving to San Antonio, which he actually thinks is the perfect place to experiment and perfect his work – mostly because it's a blank slate. “It’s a great time to be a different makeup artist in San Antonio," he says. "A lot of people here aren’t doing what I do with makeup right now." Ryan says he also wants to help build community here, and he's hoping to form a collective with other "expressionists" who want to specialize in fashion or makeup or any other expressive art. Basically: "I'm looking for people to fuck shit up with me." Currently, he's working with a trans model he calls his "muse," and has talked with local shop La Santa Luna Boutique about a fashion show – he promises it will be half "Harajuku Goth"-half BDSM harness wear.
Most of all, Ryan says he wants to make a positive impact on his home base. “I want to be a beacon for people that nobody gives a fuck about," he says. "I feel like San Antonio’s a city where everyone’s black or white. You’re either really fucking in or really fucking out. I can’t find this acceptable. There’re a lot of very beautiful people who produce very great art here.”