ST. PETERSBURG — The work of artist Steven Ramsey is making a point at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum. Actually, many colorful points.
The Steven Ramsey Collection, an exhibit of new work now showing at the museum, features the artist’s pointillism technique, which he uses to bring his subjects to life.
“I guess I’ve been doing it 20 years, using that technique,” Ramsey explained. “You start with a blank canvas, dot it with the point of the brush until the image appears in full color.”
Born and raised in Cleveland, he now resides in Pinellas Park and his work has been exhibited in countries all over the world, including Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua and the Ivory Coast.
One thing Ramsey loves about this impressionistic style is that the completed painting has the power to surprise, even the man wielding the brush.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen until you really finish because it has your mind running in many different directions while you’re doing it,” he said, “even though you’re just using the point of the brush. Then it comes out so vivid when it’s complete.”
This colorful collection features some music scenes that are set in a speakeasy. Ramsey called it a sort of “educational piece” for young people who may have heard of speakeasies but not know what they were since they were popular in the ‘20s.
“My whole thing is to open up young people’s minds and let them know that they can be and do whatever they want to do in their lives,” he said. “You just have to put forth a lot of effort and be patient.”
Ramsey knows a thing or two about spending time on his craft as he has been painting since he was five when his family started him out with paint-by-number sets. The creative streak runs in the family as his mother, uncle and grandfather were artists.
“I got to see a lot of art all of the time growing up,” he said. “I got a real insight from watching them paint and do different crafts.”
Aside from the odd class here or there, he admitted, he never had any formal art education. He likes to explore various techniques, including using metal and burlap in his work, as in his pieces “Caribbean Dancer” and “Celebration.”
“Anything that can give somebody a lift in life because there’s a lot of stuff happening in the world,” he said, about the purpose his work. “But one thing about art—it makes you feel good!”
Ramsey has had his own reasons to seek the uplifting quality of art, as his daughter passed away at the age of 18 from a brain tumor in 2006. A top student, she was a gifted singer who could sing in six or seven languages, he said, and had earned a scholarship to Cambridge University in England.
“She loved to sing Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and all of the old singers, Ella Fitzgerald. I never heard anybody sing like her, even to this day!” he said.
Only a week before his daughter was to leave for England she was hospitalized and wound up in a coma. It was during this time that Ramsey went through a Picasso-esque “Blue Period” and painted 65 pieces, “all blue.”
“When I looked at the whole scenario of it, everything was a musician. And I wasn’t even trying to find that part of myself. It just happened,” he recalled, adding that as a jazz lover himself, Ramsey believes there’s a sort of parallel in music and art.
He has also used his brush and canvas to depict larger-than-life cultural icons like Muhammad Ali, whom Ramsey had met on a few occasions. One of those times was when he graduated from college and secured a directorship at a Y.M.C.A., which Ali visited just before his famous “Thrilla in Manilla” fight in 1975.
Ramsey recalled that Ali had spotted him and said, ‘You look like you know something!’ Ramsey admitted he knew a thing or two as a street fighter, and the next thing he knew Ali invited him to “throw some jabs with him.”
Ramsey recalled the champ’s poetic quip after their impromptu sparring session: “He said, ‘You know, you got some talent, but you can’t beat me cause I’m Muhammad Al!’”
Whatever his subjects of choice are, his philosophy in life stems from doing what he loves.
“If everybody felt like me, like I feel about my artwork, we’d all be happy and joyful and laughing and it would be a pleasant world,” he stated. “I know that that’s not true right now, but I hope that one day everybody can just get along with each other, love each other and just spread love around the world.”
Ramsey’s works can be viewed at the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum throughout the month of February. Log on to woodsonmuseum.org for more information.