Extraordinary Art During Extraordinary Times
by WillowWood School's Jeff Ramage
Jeff Ramage has taken it upon himself to capture beautiful moments during these challenging times.
How did this all start?
Our school, like the entire world, suddenly became a Zoom classroom in the spring of 2020. We organized a Friday series of concerts where students would come and sing or play guitar. It was a welcome social addition to our school. With all clubs and sports canceled, we needed something like this. When I saw Ben Landon playing rush in his bedroom and James Gilbert singing “What the World Needs Now, Is Love Sweet Love” I just had to paint them.
Why did you create this collection?
Well, it wasn’t a collection at the beginning. It was just me looking around the school. All the teachers returned to school in August and I was amazed at our staff meetings in the Gym. Instead of new ways to evaluate our professional development, we focused on kindness, safety, and sanitization. One of my earliest cartoons was an attempt to share Steve Taylor’s lesson on handwashing. Soon after I got it into my head to create one picture a day. It has become a collection from this focus on production.
How do you choose what to draw?
I started seeing ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. But now I see that the reverse is true: the people are extraordinary, and the circumstances of the pandemic are ordinary. I like to see the smiles behind the masks. This is especially true in the painting of Andy taking our temperatures every morning.
What is your favourite painting?
I really love the close-up painting of Charley in grade 4. She was focussing on her math homework after school. I love the unicorns and hearts on her mask; the purple watch too big for her wrist; the light shimmering through her hair. She is very special to all who know her and I feel like I captured a calm moment of time with this image.
What do the paintings mean to you?
I like how they represent the pandemic year and how everything changed. I think of all the teachers and students and parents and administration and staff who did so much to keep us learning and staying safe. The collection is a journal of my life in 2020 and the life of those around us. The paintings represent life, beauty, and determination.
Have you changed as an artist?
I am different and my art is different. I started doing pencil cartoons with Sharpies and markers. Those eventually changed into watercolours with pen and ink. Now I have switched to oil paint and have created a very large painting of my music room. I now feel free and very confident with my work. Actually, it really isn’t work for me. It is a love of the beautiful and the meaningful. Can you tell us about the Music Room Painting?
One afternoon three of my music students came to practice one of their original songs. I am very proud that they love music so much; they still wanted to play and rehearse even while wearing masks. There is chaos in this environment, but there is also so much focus. Patrick plays a bright red guitar while Kate and Armin give her their complete attention. Everything in the room is meaningful to me. The ukulele rack was built by my father. I know which box holds the chess pieces. And I feel comforted seeing the hallway and knowing that Jill is just around the corner. I let the ocean blue of the carpet move like waves to suggest the music we can not hear.
Are you still painting?
Last week, I had a medical emergency and suddenly lost vision in my left eye. I do not know if it will ever come back. It makes me want to share my thoughts that moments in life are fleeting. I may not ever be able to paint like I did last year, but I am glad that I did what I did. I am working now on my piano skills because it is an art that is less dependent on sight. I hope my paintings inspire others to be creative. Notice the beautiful moments. Slow down and appreciate them. Draw something. I’m going to paint one of my guitars soon. I have included a self-portrait I did the morning I lost my sight. It is interesting to me that my eyes are dark and unseen.
We are all hoping you get better soon Jeff, and that you continue to bless us with your talent.
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