By Jennifer A. Garcia
Valley Press Editor
Some artists know from the beginning, what type of media they are going to work in. They know what style they’re going to create and follow and they know what they enjoy doing.
Other artists take a while to find their niche. And some artists never do, but instead experiment with a variety of media, as well as styles, throughout their lives.
Lancaster resident Ramon Ramirez is one of the ever-evolving types. He’s experimented with everything from still life to caricatures and pastels to oils.
He’s not only versatile, but he continues to push the envelope with his art, always creating something new and sometimes unexpected. But one thing is constant, he’s always working on something.
He recently hosted a reception at the Palmdale Playhouse, 38334 10th St. East, where his exhibit, “A Journey of Discovery” is being displayed through June.
“Ramirez discovered art at the very young age of four when his grandfather invited him into his studio in Los Angeles,” a press release from the City of Palmdale said. “What started as a child’s curiosity has become a passion spanning over a half century, exploring many genres and artistic techniques. He had his first one man show at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social. His work depicted images of everyday people from his hometown, Tijuana, Mexico. Ramirez’ legacy includes an active participation and collaboration to establish the Casa de la Cultura Art School in Tijuana in the early 1970s. He was chosen by the California State Department of Education as the sole illustrator for the book Encuentros. Most recently, Ramirez exhibited alongside his contemporaries at the historic 1970s art retrospective at Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) in Tijuana. Currently he is a master art teacher and mentor in his studio to award-winning students in Lancaster.”
“A Journey of Discovery,” is a combination of different art that Ramirez has been working on for the last 10 years.
“I kind of suppressed that side of me,” he said. “That is a really healthy place that you want to be as a fine artist, but there’s this aspect of doing illustrations or caricatures, I thought it was too commercial and I didn’t want to go there. But then I thought, the older I get, the less I care and I’m finding myself more comfortable now than I’ve ever been, so I included a lot of cartoons, illustrations, a lot of the work that I’ve done in the past, as well as a lot of the fine art kind of painting and drawing. So for the very first time, I feel like I’ve shed all my inhibitions and maybe my pressures to be a certain thing in the art field and just be who I am, for better or for worse.”
He said it’s the joy of the journey and not the expectation of where you’re going, that inspires him to keep working and to share his work with the public.
“It’s kind of like being lost, but it really isn’t because I find myself everyday,” Ramirez said.
A different beginning
He didn’t start out as an artist, though. He started studying mechanical engineering at a technical school.
“But it was a middle school that specialized, because the only place you could go for higher education back then was Mexicali ... which was impossible for economic reasons, demographics, just not a possibility,” Ramirez said. “So I graduated with a technical degree in mechanical engineering.”
He said a lot of his peers went immediately to work for shops and places like that because it was professional training.
“I started school at 13, by 16, a lot of the kids were working,” he said.
But despite his training and obtaining a job in his field, he wasn’t happy.
“I enjoyed it and I thought it was a good asset to what I was doing as an artist, but my passion was for this (art),” Ramirez said. “So I graduated and I decided I’d give it a shot. So I studied one year at the Instituto Technologico de Baja California.”
Many of his friends were in school there and so he decided it would be “cool to hang out” with them.
He said mechanical engineering was never really him, but he did a lot of drafting during that time. He got a job while he was still in school and went to work for a company that did blueprints. Being close to the border made it easy for him to commute and he decided that he wanted to try something closer to his field. That’s when he enrolled in university and pursued his bachelor’s degree in arts and sciences.
Ramirez had his first solo art show at age 16 and was already involved with guys in town that wanted to be artists.
“We wanted to figure out how we could bring an art school to Baja, California,” he said. “So we did a guerrilla move and stopped traffic on Revolution Avenue and as a result, I think we pushed the city enough to bring the Centro Cultural Tijuana, that’s still there.”
He also got a scholarship to study mural art, so he went to Guadalajara for a semester. However, there was a “complicated situation” at the university, so his mural project was given to a classroom, instead.
“I said, ‘I guess I’ll go back to my drafting table,’” Ramirez said.
Despite the failed mural project, he already had several paintings. In fact, he did his last show before he emigrated to the United States.
“We went to Mexicali and did the whole thing,” Ramirez said. “I did the last show at the theater, along with a photographer from Guadalajara, that had a beautiful exhibit of indigenous people. So it was cool to be in that capacity.”
He came to the United States in 1974, to live with cousins from Los Angeles, who suggested he join their company. He did all the necessary paperwork, but by the time he was finished, the cousins decided to move to Visalia, leaving Ramirez stranded.
“I thought well, what am I going to do here?” he said. “I wanted to go back to my old job with the university because it was a good place to be. Then I thought this might be a place I can call home.”
And so it was. He got jobs with a couple of chemical companies in Pasadena and Irvine.
“I wanted to try different things because I was never comfortable with being in one place for too long,” Ramirez said. “I tried different things, eventually working for a company in Irvine. I did quite a bit of work for them. Then I decided I could have more fun doing freelance. It was a lot better for me because I could go work for a lot of different companies and I had more control over my work.”
Life in the AV
Doing illustrations and design was his path until 2001, when he was already more into the fine arts. In 2003, he and his wife Madeline, moved to the Antelope Valley and he joined the ranks of the Lancaster Museum and became the standing president of the Board of Directors. That lasted about seven years.
“I met a lot of the people from the city and basically since then, I’ve been involved in one way or another with the arts,” Ramirez said.
He opened a gallery on the BLVD and that lasted for about six months because there was not enough traffic to support it.
“People kept asking if it was a museum or a gallery,” he said.
For years, he’s volunteered with the schools, doing art demonstrations. He also had the opportunity to work for Disneyland from 1998-2001, as a portrait artist.
“That gave me a little bit more of an edge as far as the speed of the work I was doing,” Ramirez said.
He produced over 2,000 portraits a year working as a pastel artist in New Orleans Square, at Disneyland.
Ramirez also worked on illustrations for a book titled, Encuentos, for the California State Department of Education. Some of those illustrations are on display at the Palmdale Playhouse.
These days, in addition to continuously working on his art, he volunteers on Tuesdays and teaches art classes to veterans.
“I’ve been teaching and you know, basically showing the technique that I practiced at Disneyland and just kind of finding myself back,” Ramirez said. “I’ve been working with Vets 4 Veterans and that’s also a huge, just, how should I put it? It’s dear to my heart. Probably the dearest thing I’ve ever done because I feel I’ve made the connection between the passion of my heart and the way to give back to the community. It’s been therapy for me. Listening to stories from the guys who have been affected by the war circumstances and the experiences. It’s a different outlet ... and I just appreciate them more than ever because I understand them more. I appreciate being in this country even more.”
He’s going on his third year working with Vets 4 Veterans and is hoping they will get a permanent location in which to conduct classes. They are currently being hosted by the Highlands Church.
“We definitely need a place we can call home, so we can make it a permanent location,” Ramirez said.
He also mentioned that supplies are needed, as well, to keep the classes going. They need easels and various art material.
Anyone interested in donating or signing up for art classes can contact Vets 4 Veterans at http://www.avvets4veterans.org/therapy.html or 661-943-5100.
“A Journey of Discovery” will be on display until June 30.