The hyper-realistic nature of Jeff Ramirez's work captures the honest and sometimes awkward moments of his subjects, unwittingly revealing their vulnerability. These moments of heightened emotions, paired with the compulsion to divert the onlooker's gaze, make us all the more curious and pulls us in. With his upcoming show at Thinkspace, Jeff continues his exploration of emotional truth with vivid new works for Being There. Here Jeff chats about his latest works, watching UFC, and Franz Gertsch
You've mentioned using others as a stand-in for yourself when creating. How much of a personal narrative is at play and what's the inspiration behind your new works for Being There?
A lot of my work is about communicating an emotional truth, even if the idea comes from my personal narrative. I am not asking the viewer to try and understand what the origin of the painting is or what it means to me, but I would hope that he or she be open to the idea of letting the work in and seeing how it resonates with them.
The past year and a half has been pretty crazy for me for a variety of reasons and I have had a lot of shows during that time. Many deadlines have come and gone and I feel like this show will close a chapter in my life. Through all of this work, I have learned to just give myself over to the process and so, Being There is a very appropriate name for this show. A lot of these works were born out of a desire to just give in and enjoy things for what they are and whatever meaning they may hold, however fleeting that may be. I hope people can appreciate that.
In many of your works, the subjects are usually shunning the viewer's gaze with either hand gestures or by hiding behind objects or clothing. Why are they avoiding us?
The camera flash is too bright! While not entirely untrue, a more serious answer would be that the denial is a big part of communication while using this candid aesthetic. These paintings are meant to be more than just a pastiche of photography styles and so obscuring details is necessary to keep the connection alive between the image and the viewer. The tension is the key to that relationship.
Do you collaborate with your models or is it strictly your vision being executed?
I would say that I collaborate with them, but they may not be aware that it is happening. I have lists of elements and themes that I want to work with, but the piece usually comes together only once I find the right person for it. The model's energy is often pretty essential. Getting someone to be comfortable while I take pictures is very important, whether the person knows it or not. The ideas are meant to be fluid and the work can become about the performance element and our relationship.
If you could only hang one painting from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
This is so tough. If I only get one choice, then I would want something huge so that I can keep coming back to it and finding new things -- Patti Smith I by Franz Gertsch. No picture could do justice to any of the Patti paintings. They're massive and perfectly executed. The closer you get, the image just dissolves.
Tell us something about yourself we wouldn’t necessarily know.
I am a fan of mixed martial arts. Many an art opening has been missed in favor of watching the UFC.
If I were to spend the day with Jeff, what could I expect?
I'm usually working, so you could expect to be bored while I listen to podcasts and paint details with tiny brushes. But every once in a while, there is a day where I am free from the shackles of art and that usually involves a fair amount of running, sunshine, terrible movies, comedy, vices, sarcasm and very little sleep.
All photos courtesy of the artist