Surveying the eclectic collection of artistic renderings from artist Richard Rampersad, the casual observer can immediately tell that he does not believe in stereotypes or boundaries. His art pieces, which range from ceramic works, colour paintings on acrylic and sketches, don’t fall into an easily definable category.
Rather, as Rampersad reiterates, emotion and passion are the driving forces behind his work. Like many artists who allow themselves the luxury of being vulnerable for their craft, Rampersad enjoys taking risks even while understanding that he still has a way to go. “I am also of the firm belief that one should know the rules of art making before breaking them. I usually associate the word talent with a natural or born skill. However, in my case, I won’t say I have a natural aptitude; it was one that I developed over time, through repetition, determination and research. I still aim at improving my style and technique and this will be on-going self-investigation. creativity is inexhaustible; thus, I intend to keep producing.”
As a child, Rampersad admitted that he understood the importance of play as a form of art as well. Though humble and quiet from the onset, Rampersad has a burgeoning lexicon that he uses at will and with ease in addition to his laser-like focus towards his work and how he represents himself. Ambitious yes, but on another level, Rampersad is a precise young man who takes care to craft his work, which eventually comes through in his delivery. What’s not immediately apparent, however, is the sense of inherent shyness that is masked by his outward confidence and ability.
“From the age of 10, I became interested in art. My spare time and school vacations were utilised for art making. I remember quite vividly colouring the walls as if I were making murals, of course, much to the dissatisfaction of my elders, as this was seen as a “mess”. I always felt the need to superimpose on a surface the elements of line, colour and pattern. Consequently, this transcended beyond paper to the walls, floor and furniture of my home.”
As an unspoken rule of sorts, no pieces of art look alike. There are similarities in colour and texture, but in essence, each receptacle in Rampersad’s ceramic collection is off kilter by just a smidge. There are roughly hewn and wavy edges that play on the natural colours of the material. Rampersad, 26, graduated from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine (UWI) and holds a bachelor degree in Visual Arts. As a final year post graduate student studying Cultural Studies at UWI, Rampersad still finds time for his artistic meanderings.
His other works on acrylic or paper give a greater insight into his fascination with the female form, cultural underpinnings and his religious beliefs as well. His work with East Indian dancers and other cultural and religious topics garnered much attention, which eventually led to his showing at the National Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago. His work, among other Trinidadian artists, sought to celebrate the legacy brought to island from India back in the days of indentured labour. From sketches of classical Indian dancers to rangoli decoration, Rampersad had one thing in mind.
“Impact! As a practicing Hindu, I have a critical cognisance of the importance the “aesthetics” play in the adoration of God. Ritual paraphernalia and offerings are usually adorned intricately which operate on a symbolic level to represent the love and respect of the devotee for the Supreme Being.”
Though deeply rooted in his religion, Rampersad openly investigates other areas of life as well. Describing his process working with live subjects, particularly females, in more detail, Rampersad prefers to engage with his model in order to root out their societal issues and even personal problems they are willing to let play on the surface of their faces and bodies. Not hiding from the stark emotions of his subjects, Rampersad explores themes of sadness and loneliness, as he believes this represents the human experience at its most complex state. “Through the use of the female figure as an object for exploration, I present haunting concepts of alienation, isolation, ambivalence, disconnection and anticipation, conveying the idea of transient temporality that exists in most moments of our daily lives.”
On a societal level, Rampersad’s work also highlights issues of feminism and the salient issues surrounding female beauty, empowerment and the woman’s place among her peers. “My work strives to question ideas and narratives pertaining to the light in which women are viewed. Is she seen as a figure of beauty, grace and modesty? What about a symbol of fertility? In this series of works, my primary concern is violence against women.” Before he gets to the end product, he has to start somewhere. Referred to officially as a ‘multi-media artist’, Rampersad relishes in the idea of exploring his artistic talents in a thoughtful manner. Though a young artist, Rampersad shows great maturity towards his work by way of his precise methodology when mapping out his creative process.
“Before embarking on a painting, I produce a preliminary study or drawing using pencil in shades of graphite. This is done to work out issues of composition, perspective, proportion and foreshortening. When I’m satisfied, I transfer onto a painting via acrylics, and, if I so desire to see it ‘in the round’, it would take the form of a sculpture via the use of clay.” As far as his preferences with mediums go, Rampersad doesn’t cage his interests either. Rather, he explores the various depths of colour from pencil work to create more than fifty shades of grey. Whereas with acrylics, Rampersad uses this medium for his colour paintings, as he explained, “The freedom and forgiving nature of acrylics along with its fast drying and opaque quality makes it a suitable medium for my coloured works.”
With clay, Rampersad, like many people, finds peace in the malleability of soft, doughy, stretchy material that can be manipulated into myriad forms. The cool, smooth texture is somewhat of a joyous experience for the artist; yet he understands the mercurial nature of earthen material. As Rampersad explained, clay can prove difficult if not treated properly. “If clay isn’t wedged (kneaded) properly or contains impurities (stones) it can shatter in the kiln (oven used to fire/bake clay). Much care and attention must be paid when handling the material to ensure a positive outcome. My pottery and ceramic works can be considered polysemous and are usually hand built or occasionally wheel thrown. The shapes of my vessels are usually inspired by nature and it is quite common to notice humanoid forms as well.”
While Rampersad is able to wax philosophic about his art and the processes involved, he does admit some of family and friends aren’t as easy to tackle when it comes to relaying his work. “Sometimes I find myself having to enlighten my family and friends about the profundity of works of art that goes against the “pretty art” culture, which my work does not conform to. It’s about work that is grounded in research and symbolism.”
As Rampersad continues his works on pottery and sculptures for a solo exhibition, which he calls his ‘Clay Consciousness Series’, where he uses local terracotta and features clay as a medium explored in unconventional ways, challenging the intellectualism of contemporary art. Additionally, the National Council of Indian Culture of Trinidad and Tobago has also invited him to exhibit and curate at their Fine Art Exhibition entitled, ‘Hindu Symbolism’ come September 2017. With such a fine future ahead of him, Rampersad hopes his work draws people into a space that allows creative thought. His collections, though varied, offer the observer the chance to question, above all else.
“I think my paintings will be viewed from opposite ends of the spectrum of love and disdain. I want people to question my work continuously. I seek to invite the viewer to move into a space of speculation, and questioning the real and the surreal. This is why ambivalence is important for me. I think this is why, ultimately, art chose me.”