Meet Ramsey Chahine, Featured Artist in CARTWHEEL Show, Opening April 18 in Downtown Los Angeles Arts District
CARTWHEEL loves being in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, supporting the artists and businesses, so presenting a solo exhibition from Ramsey Chahine at #103 1820 Industrial Street was a natural match for us here at CARTWHEEL. We’re good at pop-ups–CARTWHEEL was coming off their four day mini-art fair event in March; and Cindy and Lisa had each done a one-night pop up at Coagula April 6 and 13 respectively. We loved Ramsey’s art and #103 was the perfect spot!
Ramsey’s vibrant work, with its figurative and abstract elements, bold colors, and animal likenesses represents conflict and physicality and blew us away. Then we learned more about his background in poetry, mixed martial arts, and education in mysticism (he studied a self-chosen major of ‘The Art of Being’ at New York University, where he graduated a year ago). This Redondo Beach native’s solo show on April 18, “La Luta Art Show,” is his premiere exhibition, featuring 25 new works; we see fast moves and huge potential coming from Ramsey.
Ramsey invited us to his arts district loft / studio last week for a visit and quick interview. He’ll be at the opening, sponsored by The Daily Dose, with tapas from Raging Bull, on Thursday, April 18 from 7-10pm. “La Luta” will hang through May 16.
We understand that Mixed Martial Arts is a big part of your life, and we can see it expressed in this show. Can you tell us more?
It has influenced my work to a great degree. This show is really about how I have felt like I have two different identities. One is the artist and one is the martial artist. The martial artist is very disciplined, pragmatic, hard-working. The artist is more of a free soul, do-whatever-he wants. So this show is a reconciliation between those two things. Some of these paintings are a meeting between those two things. Others are explicitly one or the other. The show is called ‘La Luta,’ which means ‘The Fight’ in Portuguese. It’s basically all the emotional, spiritual conflicts that people fight against, or that I feel I fight against personally. There’s a lot at stake in every painting.
Did you show your artwork in New York before you moved to L.A.? What’s your art background?
I’ve only been painting seriously for a year. Well, I started painting when I was a little kid. And then I started doing a lot of poetry, and primarily studying poetry, mysticism and religious studies in school. And three years ago I picked up painting again, and gradually it’s been increasing, and for the last year I’ve been really pursuing it as my main thing. No, I didn’t do any shows in New York. I did meet this really wonderful woman though, who mentored me, Juliana Lazzaro. Just a chance encounter on the streets in New York. And through her, Knox Martin, who teaches at the Arts Students League of New York. I learned a lot from him, both directly and through Juliana. That really set me on a serious track, because I really started understanding composition and colors and shape making and contours and forming lines.
Who are your other painterly influences?
I like Titian, Mattisse, Picasso, Cezanne. The way I was taught by Knox and Juliana was to appreciate a specific lineage of painters. They taught me to hate Carvaggio, hate Warhol, love Titian, love Cezanne, love Picasso, love de Kooning. They thought that Carvaggio was an illustrator and Michaelangelo was an illustrator. I love, love, love Picasso. I love Basquiat, obviously, and I really admire El Greco, Francisco De Goya, and da Vinci.
What’s the story of The Black Wolf of My Dreams?
A lot of my work is inspired by dreams I’ve had. I had a vision of this wolf a couple months before I went on a motorcycle trip through New England. I was in Vermont camping on this lake in the White Mountains, and there was this wolf that I saw on the other side of the lake. It was sipping, drinking water, and I just had this amazing experience with it. I was told [after the experience] that it’s my spirit animal by this Shaman in Pennsylvania. I can identify a lot with the wolf. They’re more cunning than they are wise, not like cats. That’s why I painted a tiger, too — I think my girlfriend’s a cat of some sort, like a cheetah or something…
I think every angry thing has a gentle thing. every light has a dark, and the brighter the light the darker the shadow cast. So, I saw that little bird as giving wings to the prowling stance of the wolf.
… The motorcycle trip was a warm-up for a bigger trip. I was planning on going on a lifelong motorcycle journey, but it got stolen in New York. So I moved out here and I was going to just do a road trip. I bought a car, but all the paperwork was forged, and it had to get impounded. I lost all this money and I didn’t have a car, so I ended up stuck here — but all for the right reasons, I guess. I trust whatever’s guiding me to the right place.
What inspired some of the other works in this series?
A lot of the inspiration in the work that I do comes from family-oriented stuff. There’s just a lot to talk about when it comes to family, whoever you are.
What about the one on the pallet that you did last year?
I was really broke and would just paint on things I found, so I found this piece of Masonite and screwed it into a pallet. The two faces are drawings I did of myself in graphite, and I scanned them and printed them. Whenever I get stuck, I collage, and it seems to solve all of my problems. I don’t know why, but I just start putting newspaper on, and everything seems to work out.
Do other pieces in this exhibition have newspaper or collage elements?
Not really. Like I said, I had a pretty easy time with these. I knew what I was starting from every time I was approaching the canvas. Sometimes you have to dig for something, and for these, in the past month, it’s just been going, uninhibited.
There are a lot of symbols of mysticism and Christianity in your work. What is the relevance of these influences?
When I was 16, 17, 18, I was a practicing Buddhist — as much as a teenager can be. I was raised in a very secular household. My father comes from a Muslim family but he doesn’t practice at all, and my mom is [nondenominational]. I studied Judaism under a Rabbi… I liked aspects of Hinduism, and then Christianity — it just seems like the best story to me. It’s so rich and full of life — and I think Jesus was a pretty amazing dude. A lot of my work is inspired by the Gospel of Thomas, which was a Coptic text discovered in 1948 in Egypt. In 300 A.D., when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, they all came together and decided what to include in the Bible, and they didn’t include the Gospel of Thomas because they thought it portrayed Jesus too much like a man, and not as God. He was the skeptic, but he was also the closest to Jesus, in some regards. It’s really interesting.
Can you tell us more about your NYU curriculum?
I was at the school of individualized study where you get to create your own major. Mine was called ‘The Art of Being.’ It included mysticism, philosophy, astrophysics, creative writing, a little bit of art, a dancing class, a sculpture class.
How has your work developed over the last year since graduating in May?
My work has been growing and changing very rapidly. I don’t think I would have ready for a show before this.
…Knox Martin says every brushstroke is a song. I found that before, I would do a brushstroke and then erase it. I was able to break that, and just trust. I think my skill, my handling, improved, physically — and also, my ideas grew a bit clearer, which takes time I think. The way I like to say it is, most artists get to be well-known and get their groove in their 50s. So I figure, if I’m 20 years old that I have to age three decades in order to get to my prime. So, there was one moment when I felt like I aged a decade. I went from one painting to another apinting and something just clicked. Then I aged another decade, and I aged another five years, and finally now I feel like I’m encroaching upon that last five years to get to where I feel like I’m going to be for a while. And that’s going to change. I don’t think I’ll ever be an artist that does the same thing all the time. That’s kind of the generation that I’m from. We don’t care about paintings that were worked on for a hundred years, we care about what was done in ten minutes. What we can get now. That’s the trajectory, but there will always be a common thread.
CARTWHEEL & The Daily Dose present:
La Luta Art Show: The Works of Ramsey Chahine
April 18 through May 16, artist reception April 18
Los Angeles Downtown Arts District
1820 Industrial St., Los Angeles Ste. 103
Opens: Thursday, April 18, 2013 (7-10pm)
Apr. 18 – May
RSVP on Facebook
Top image: Ramsey in his loft / studio with a commission piece (not for sale).