An Artist’s Journey
Calvin Edward Ramsburg’s art, as we know it today, might be entirely different if it were not for a few fateful twists in his journey as an artist. Ramsburg grew up in rural Frederick County, MD, where the farmlands surrounding his family home served as his playground and it’s resident wildlife, a subject of study.
As a teenager, Ramsburg had already established a reputation for his highly realistic illustrations of birds rendered in pen and ink. “I was doing a lot of drawing,” says the
artist who began sketching soonafter he could hold a pencil. “I was fascinated by birds, their color and interplay.”
As a senior in high school and the recipient of a perfect score on a Princeton Portfolio Review, he was introduced to Vo-Dinh Mai, a Vietnamese abstract artist, who was assigned to teach a two week workshop to Ramsburg and other advanced placement art students. While Ramsburg had studied impressionism and cubism along with classic representational styles, he knew nothing of abstract art and failed in his first attempts.
Working one on one with Vo-Dinh while the other students attended a school pep rally, the artist encouraged Ramsburg to try again, telling him to be ‘at one with the brush and stay in the moment.’ “It was my first glimmer,” recalls Ramsburg who admired the working artist. “I learned that abstract art wasn’t a technique or style, but the ability to think and execute abstractly.”
The workshop experience had a profound effect on Ramsburg, who was now being courted by a number of high profile colleges and universities for his represenational work. Ramsburg, who disliked school, decided to forgo college and be an artist. By day, he worked in a bookstore and at night painted, often attempting the new art form with which he was becoming obesssed. “I made it my life’s ambition to do abstract.”
A chance encounter with Vo-Dinh resulted in additional night time study with he and other local abstract painters, Margaret Kennedy and Truda Head. “Vo-Dinh taught me that ‘painting was more important than the picture I was painting’. It was heavy stuff for me. He said, ‘you keep doing it and it will come’.” During one of these many sessions Vo-Dihn spotted Ramsburg at work. “He told me to stop painting – that I had one,” Ramsburg still fondly remembers. Equally significant during these sessions from 1987 – 1989, was Ramsburg’s switch from watercolor to acrylics.
Continued exploration resulted in Ramsburg’s realization of another element that would result in his next breakthrough – the incorporation of drawing. In the mid-90s, Ramsburg kept an illustrated journal, a “Night Diary,” whereby people, events, emotions and more were depicted in the form of a symbol language he developed. His marriage of drawing and painting in “Street Harvest,” a series of large canvases, was met with positive response upon exhibition. After seeing the paintings, Vo-Dinh wrote Ramsburg a letter of congratulations, acknowledging his achievement as a painter. “Vo-Dinh was truly my mentor,” says Ramsburg. “I will always feel a karmic debt for all that he did.”
Ramsburg has continued to employ and advance the many approaches he discovered during these early years. In 2007, Ramsburg celebrated his 40th birthday and the 20th anniversary of his first exhibit with a solo show at the Washington County Art Council Gallery in Hagerstown, MD. “Painting is a celebration,” he says.
With many exhibitions, awards, and commissions, Ramsburg still feels there is more to learn. “You never arrive,” he says, “you are always exploring. I hope I live to be an old man so that I can do the kind of paintings you can only do based on living and life experience at that age.”
Painting for me is making the imagination visible in an exercise of mindfulness. Colors running into colors, into lines of color, into shapes. One move leading to the next, until the subject is found, revealing the dream.