#8, colored pencil on paper, 5″ x 24,” 2017
I first met Eugene (Gene) Ramey back in the late 1970s through my friend and painter, Larry Gray. In 1964, Larry and I were Freshmen, studying art at University of Georgia. As it happened Gene Ramey, also from Georgia, had gone to U. of GA. a decade earlier with studies in music. When we met, Gene was living on Page Street in San Francisco, and was very much involved in visual art, directing galleries, curating collections for the corporate world, and working as an independent representative for a number of artists, one of whom was Larry.
Over the decades, Gene and I became close friends. I’d visit him often and periodically we’d travel together–New York, Savannah, New Orleans, and Puerto Rico. He’d occasionally visit me in Seattle, and once I visited him at his home in Mexico where he moved in the 90s and lived for more than a decade. It was here, in addition to his continued composing and performing piano music, he began to express himself visually.
Today, at 89, he lives in the small community of Crocket, California with his beloved dog Mambo, his grand old piano, and stacks upon stacks of small, colorful drawings. Perhaps it doesn’t matter knowing his background was music, but these extraordinary images arrive, it seems to me, from his sense of music, the weft and warp of pattern and rhythm, tapping into the brain’s appetite for color. In so many of these intimate drawings, one can feel chordal harmonies–a primary triad pushing to the fore, a half-diminished seventh hung behind a canopy of minor sevenths, a breve, a crotchet and a semiquaver. These are dynamic visual sound scores, served up in a confectionery of brilliant hues. There are, of course, a variety of iconic symbols but these tend to be secondary, residing beneath what happens to the eye when it glides across and becomes enraptured in such panoramas of color.
Here below is our recent interview along with various drawings by his hand and heart.
EUGENE RAMEY INTERVIEW with GALEN GARWOOD
Galen: I know, Gene, that you and I were born in the state of Georgia, both of us attended the University of Georgia in Athens, albeit a few years apart. When did you leave Georgia?
Eugene: Beginning in the mid-fifties; I’d visit Sausalito during the summers.
Galen: Why there?
Eugene: My older sister, Emily, was living there, and when I was fifteen, my father flew me out to check up on her. I was in the bay area only four days when I got summoned back, but in that short time, I fell in love with California. I vowed I’d live there one day. In 1960, when I was thirty, with both parents gone, I had no more family responsibilities, so I moved permanently out to California.
#6, colored pencil on paper, 18″ x 23″ 2015
Galen: What were your creative inspirations living in such a small town in the south?
Eugene: There wasn’t much in little Cornelia to inspire. No museums, no public or private art collections. We did have this rather extraordinary sculpture, a giant red apple that still stands in front of the train station, like the ‘collossi of Memnon.’ Cornelia, in Habersham County, was once the heart of the apple industry in North Georgia.
In those days, I turned to music; it existed there in limited ways: radio, movies, and of course within the church. I studied music, taught choir and piano and when I eventually moved to Sausalito, and through my sister’s connections, I started a career as a church organist, choir master, and piano teacher. These were some of the best years of my life, moving into an adventurous, stimulating cultural life, meeting new and exciting friends. Eventually, I moved more and more into visual art.
#5, colored pencil on paper, 32″ x 28″ 2017
Galen: But you weren’t yet making art?
Eugene: No. Then, I was on the other side, directing galleries, representing artists, curating for corporate collections. And this was important. I experienced many different kinds of art and got to know the artists personally, many of whom became good friends. Their presentation was of interest to me. Good works don’t require a bold showing. There are no rules, of course, but what came through was their attitude toward their work.
#9, colored pencil on paper, 12″ x 17″ 2017
Galen: During the years that you directed galleries, and represented other artists, did you know then or imagine that you would eventually be creating works of art with such passion?
Eugene: Seeing so much art was a real revelation for me, a firsthand education in the visual art world. One can thumb through illustrated books on all ages of art making, but to have the work in your hand, to be able to touch it, then it comes alive. Another tremendous learning experience was meeting the artists, to be aware, to some degree, of their way of living. How they presented their work and their attitude toward art became of interest to me…and valuable.
Now, When I make art, I’ll remember a particular work and wonder how the artist made it. Then I might try my hand at something similar. But color is my real love; it reveals the emotions, igniting a kind of passion within me.
#7, colored pencil on paper, 22″ x 17″ 2016
Galen: Do you think ‘Post-Modern’ art is returning to something less banal, more purposely constructed and less ‘destructive?” A 21st Century Neo-Renaissance of some kind?
Ramey: Well, I don’t think we should ever fence art into categories. Historically, this all happens by the market place—art critics, writers of textbooks, gallery owners, the media. I think most artists, however, are influenced, moved, or irritated by the work of other artists, and most are aware of what others did before them.
The market place determines too much—easy tags to attract collectors of art. These labels apply to what is fashionable within periods of time, but fine art is too unruly.
The artist looks for something without definition; art is or should be, an individual quest. When I make a drawing I am not thinking of its place in history, but rather the history of my life. We are a mighty huge group of people, each with our own story to tell.
#2, colored pencil on paper, 24″ x 28″ 2015
Galen: OK. So why do you do it?
Eugene: Do what?
Galen: Make art. Why do it? Why does it matter?
Eugene: Because–well, for me, I could say that art is a kind of gravitation toward something holy, indefinably beautiful, even essential. Or I could say that I am happier when I make art than I am when I’m not. Not very profound but maybe it’s just that simple.
#4, colored pencil on paper, 21″ x 18″ 2001
Watch this exciting live interview with Gene and David Perry
Gene Ramey continues to work devotedly and passionately on his drawings, even if its always a struggle to buy the art supplies he needs. For him, art does matter.
Friends have recently started a Gene Ramey Go Fund Me Campaign to help him buy more paper, more colored pencils and a few frames. We need to keep him busy!
Thank you, Gene, for making art and making art matter