Juan Ramirez on Fear, Self-Discipline & His Journey as a Painter
Self-discipline is not getting yourself to do what you want; it is controlling your fears from stopping you from what you can do. - Juan Jr. Ramirez
"It seems that painting at this moment in life, at this time in history is actually a noble thing. But I am too immature to consciously paint for nobility. But maybe I am a great artist, maybe I will inspire great artists of the future. I will continue to read my days, I will persist, and let today's chapter end."
My name is Juan Jr. Ramirez, and the above quote is the last few sentences I wrote in my autobiography almost two years ago. Since then I've had five solo shows of my oil paintings in my home state of Illinios, taught classes and workshops, and traveled to meet other artists and paint with them in their studios. I have met so many wonderful people. Now I'm 22 and visiting in Vermont with artist Andrea Scheidler. I'm working on a book of my notes on John Singer Sargent's painting techniques and will be in my first gallery show in April, thanks to Greg Worden of Vermont Artisan Designs in Brattleboro.
The oil painting on the cover of this Gallery Walk guide is of my niece, Jaylin. It is on a 16x20 birchwood panel which will be in the Vermont Artisan Designs April show. What can I say ... I love her! She makes me smile. She lightens up my day. She tricks me into searching videos of Elmo on youtube. My goal here, though, was to continue developing my technique and tapping into the French naturalist movement. I painted it here in Vermont, in Andrea's studio, High Street Painters.
This is my second time visiting Vermont. Andrea invited me to visit her after meeting me in Chicago and seeing my oil paintings. With her introduction, I met renowned artist Richard Schmid last fall in Putney at Village Arts. Since then, many opportunities have opened to me. Is this another miracle story? A rags to riches story? A ghetto boy from the hood ends up in Vermont with a Caucasian couple story? Maybe. But let me tell you how it really feels. It's an incredible happiness! It is destiny unfolding before my eyes! It is dreams coming true! It is love and compassion, like the hand of God gently leading me. This is no unique story, and no great story. This is no wonderful story but a story of wonderful people.
There were nights that seemed hopeless, when debt piled up, procrastination was like a disease, and sketches were all screwed up. But compared to someone living in a truly impoverished area in some obscure part of the world, I was blessed. I had to believe. I dreamed dreams. I had visions, and I chased after them. You know, I yelled. I yelled at the universe and told it that I would give it my all and more, and fight and keep fighting. My family suffered too much for me to allow myself to give up. Art is worth doing and life is worth living. Painting is a noble thing. "To work is to pray," as Sargent said. And so I prayed. I poured myself into my painting.
I began painting in oils when I was eighteen years old. I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a year and half. I realized that what I wanted to learn was not emphazised as much as post-modern art and politics. So I bought art books and instructional DVDs about classical artists and painting techniques. I taught myself to paint. My first models were my family. So in my tiny bedroom I doodled to a beat while Chicago gangs shot it out in the street. Only after I sold my first painting on Ebay -- of my step-brother Adrian -- did my family begin to support me. Occasionally they still tell me that I suck. They are my harshest critics, but I am beginning to impress them.
My technique has increased exponentially, and great opportunities lie ahead now. Though I returned to my cubicle-size bedroom/studio in Chicago, where I have south light, I have learned to shut up and paint. Even the greatest artist can live in obscurity, but that was not my goal. How could I share my work? My uncle told me to put a painting on Ebay. I did. One collector who saw my work online passed the word to a foundation that my paintings were good. That foundation provided me with shows and workshops. Work increased my output and led to other projects. Other projects brought new contacts. New contacts brought new opportunities. How can I say no to what lies ahead now? I learned that self-discipline is not getting yourself to do what you want; it is controlling your fears from stopping you from what you can do.
Artists know how hard it can be to paint a portrait. So many fears. We torment ourselves with "what ifs." What if the drawing is wrong? What if the color is wrong? What if I can't paint eyes, etc. It takes practice, goals, guts, and a little insanity. In fact we have to believe we can make colored mud look attractive. So what do we artists have to lose -- we are already crazy!
I commend all people who are wise and pragmatic. Getting ahead in life takes work. I thank all who have supported me. Your words of encouragement will not go out the other ear. I am Mexican-American, so statistically the odds are against me. But forget that! They were always against me. I have had health issues, had rebellious siblings, my parents divorced. I have lived in poverty and experienced the lure and the threat of gangs. Other hurdles lie ahead, such as competition, lack of skill, and more. I am human, but history has proven how much potential we have. I might never be young again, but I can still be great.
Copyright 2010, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont