Ron Ownbey


Biography: Ronald B Ownbey

Early Years

Ron was born in West Hollywood, California in 1938, a fourth generation Californian. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, his younger brother Rich and he would spend summers on their grandparents’ fruit ranch, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains about 20 miles north/west of the town of Bishop. It was here that Ron spent lots of time drawing and painting as he sat among the rocks, sage-brush and pine trees on the ranch (with his friends the squirrels, lizards, snakes, and bugs). His subjects were mostly Indians, mythological and historical sites, and people, as well as the rugged landscape vistas that were abundant at the ranch and in the Mammoth area. His very first oil was a paint-by-numbers composition of two parrots, which he completed when he was 14 years old.

Military Service

After Ron graduated from Covina Union High School in June of 1956, he entered the US Army for a three year enlistment. The military draft was a part of the American landscape for all able-bodied men in those days, and he wanted to fulfill his obligation to his country before he started his college career. After basic training, his unit was stationed in Germany, where during the next couple of years he was able to take short leaves and visit art musums in great European cities such as Paris and London. The art Ron saw knocked him out, and he knew that when he returned to the States he wanted to pursue studies in studio art, especially drawing and painting.

College Years

Ron returned from Germany in June of 1959 having finished his tour of active duty with the US Army and settled on a plan to live with his parents in the Covina area. He landed a summer job nearby as a stock boy in a hardware store (earning one dollar an hour) and then enrolled at Mt. San Antonio College starting with the fall semester in September and spent his next two years majoring in art. Ron learned so much about design, composition, art history, and the materials and techniques of drawing and painting while at Mt. SAC and one of the Professors persuaded and helped him apply for a scholarship to the Otis Art Institute. In July of 1961 he was awarded a full tuition scholarship for the following academic year. 

The next four years would be an amazing journey at Otis, where Ron learned much and expanded his creative artistic vision with the help of many faculty, especially professors Joe Mugnaini, Wayne Long and Richard Haines. He had to reapply each year with a portfolio of artwork that was evaluated by the core faculty for the tuition scholarship, which he was fortunate to receive for each of the next three years. One condition of the scholarship was that each recipient had to put in a certain number of work hours at the institute. His time was divided between working with Wayne Long in the gallery, designing and setting up exhibitions, and working with Joan Hugo in the library, where he was the night librarian.

After four exciting and incredible years of hard creative work and study, long hours, and great expense, twenty two students finally graduated from Otis Art Institute on the evening of May 28, 1965. They all received two degrees that night: Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts. The degrees Ron received were for a major in painting and a minor in drawing, both with “high distinction”. 

Teaching Years

In the last six months of completing his MFA degree at the Otis Art Institute, Ron started applying to various colleges in California for a teaching position in their art departments. Several colleges responded with interest, and he ended up going for interviews at two community colleges and one university campus. Then, as everyone who has ever applied for a college teaching position knows, you wait. After two weeks he finally heard from his old alma mater and went for a final interview with the adminstration at Mt. San Antonio College. After that interview, he had barely gotten home when a telegram arrived offering him a full-time position in the art department teaching drawing and design. His starting salary was $700.00 a month for a ten month yearly contract. He was in 7th heaven, since that was more money than he had ever earned before in his life. In September of 1965 Ron started teaching at Mt. SAC. 

His first year of teaching was extremely rewarding but very difficult. He learned from his students how best to help them with their artistic development. He faced the inherent problem in teaching studio courses: how to balance his time between his own creative work and the time for the learning process needed by his students. In 1970 Ron was appointed Art Department Chair and oversaw years of tremendous student growth and the building of a new art center building. Over the years Ron taught a number of courses such as Drawing, Life Drawing, 2-D Design, Printmaking, and in the late 80’s started the program in Computer Graphics. During these years, Ron got married and saw his family expand with the birth of his daughter Valerie in 1970 and his son Tim in 1975. 

It is important for a person to know when it is time to look at one’s situation, make a decision, move on and institute needed changes. Timing is critical to our emotional and spiritual well being as it applies to everything that affects our life, such as career situations, relationships, financial matters, and living arrangements. In 1999 Ron knew that the time had come for him to start a new chaper in his life, so he started opening the door to retirement. In June of 2000, after having taught for 35 years and being art department chairman for 30 years, Ron finally walked through that door.

Retirement from Teaching 

When one is young and starts on a teaching career, the idea of retirement seems so very far away. Someday it may happen, but it’s an abstract idea for the future. But time has a habit of going by rather quickly, and the years add up and suddenly you discover that you have retired and your whole life has changed. Your time is pretty much your own, and Ron found that it took some time getting used to that fact. Yes, you still think about and miss your students, but having the freedom from the required schedule of work or career is a whole new mindset. For a creative person it is a chunk of heaven.

It took Ron some time to get back into the swing of having time to do his own artwork. He visited numerous art museums and galleries that dot the Southern California landscape, and began questioning why he was even bothering to create his own work. This lead to something that had never happened to him before: painter’s block! For several years he created next to nothing, and finally in 2005 started doing numerous digital paintings. After several years of internal conflict and questioning, Ron finally realized that he had always done his own thing. He always knew deep down that the act of creating, the doing, the engagement in the creative process itself that goes on in his mind is where he as a unique individual is alive and lives. This is the most important thing, irrespective of what is going on in the current game of the visual art world. 

Towards the end of 2011, Ron finally got back to working with traditional drawing and painting mediums. In 2012 and 2013 Ron spent a great amount of time and energy on three projects: 1) building a digital data base of his work; 2) creating and publishing a book covering the last 60 years of his creative activities; and 3) having a 60 year retrospective of his work. That exhibition, “From Mind Thru Hand: a 60 Year Retrospective 1953-2013”, took place from March 13 to April 17, 2014 at the Mt. San Antonio College Art Gallery. 

Since that exhibition Ron has continued his passion of creating visual images in digital painting, multi-media, drawing and oil painting. He has participate in exhibitions, both invitational and juried, and his work has been included in a number of publications. Another retrospective, covering 64 years of Ron’s work, took place from March 25 to May 5, 2017 at the Makeshift Museum in the “arts district” of Los Angeles.  

Life and Ron’s creative work continues........