Interview with Ron Ownbey
The interview was conducted by Fatemeh Burns, Director & Curator of Exhibitions at Mt San Antonio College Art Gallery. June 2013
Fatemeh Burnes: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
Ron Ownbey: When I was growing up, my family moved around a lot, so I learned early on that making friends was just a temporary situation. We would move and I would have to make friends all over again. So I learned how to play and do things by myself. My younger brother Rich and I would spend summers on our grandparents’ fruit ranch, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Bishop. That is when I started to spend lots of time drawing and painting, sitting among the rocks, sagebrush and pine trees on the ranch. I knew then, as a young teenager, that I wanted to be an artist.
FB: Creating an artwork, what are your favorite materials?
RO: When I was a student at Otis Art Institute I experimented with a lot of different media, but found that I preferred oil paint to acrylic. In drawing, I like putting down watercolor and then coming back with detail in black ink. Also, I often use turpentine with Ebony pencil, sometimes going back into the drawing with colored pencil. I enjoy charcoal, but don’t work with it very often. In the late 80’s, when I started the Computer Graphics program at Mt. SAC, I found that I really like creating computer paintings on the Mac, using Photoshop.
FB: In college, which professors had the greatest influence on your learning and thinking about the visual arts?
RO: When I was a student at Mt. SAC in the late 50’s I learned so much about painting and composition from Walter Mix and color and design from Mariam Moss. When I then went to Otis, Paul Darrow, Joe Munigiani, Bentley Schaad and Richard Haines all taught me a tremendous amount about design, drawing and painting. In composition and the use of mixed media, Wayne Long opened my mind to so many different ideas and approaches, as well as teaching me about exhibition design. During my sabbatical leave in the mid 70’s I went back to Otis for a semester and again learned so much from my advisors, Joe Munigiani and Bob Glover, and had numerous discussions with Emerson Woelffer and Charles White.
FB: What are the sources for the ideas you deal with in your work?
RO: The ideas for my work are very personal reflections and interpretations of my fantasies, emotions, feelings, and reactions, all stemming from my inner being in response to my relationships, my family, and the history and state of the world and the moment in time in which I exist. The serenity, chaos, complexity and vastness of the universe and our world and the variety of life forms that nature and God have created feed into my mind. The ideas formulated in my mind are filtered through my heart after much introspection and struggle, and come out through my hand onto the paper or canvas.
FB: Why do you create art?
RO: Because just as I have a need to breathe, sleep, eat, love, think, interact, and so many other things in order to stay alive, my spirit and inner well-being as a person need to be creative through art. The act of creating, the doing, the engagement in the “creative process” that goes on in my mind – that is where I, as a unique individual, am alive.
FB: Which artists and cultures have had the most influence on your work?
RO: While my work has been influenced by a number of cultures, the ones that I have always related to the most since I was a little kid have been ancient Egypt and imperial Rome. While I have always admired many artists important to the development and the history of the visual arts, those of a more modern and contemporary vision have influenced me the most, especially Joan Miró, Arshile Gorky, Jean Dubuffet, Willem DeKooning, Jackson Pollock, Roberto Matta, Sam Francis and Gunter Gerzso.