Erie Artist Inspires Others
Ron Bayuzick, 73, is a multitalented artist who works in paint, wood and metal. Erie Arts & Culture chose him as a Teaching Artist, which means he spends time in Erie classrooms passing on his years of artistic expertise and passion. Bayuzick, a Pittsburgh native, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art education from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and earned a master’s of fine art degree in painting and sculpture from Kent State University. He taught art for 30 years in Ohio high schools before returning to the Erie area. Recently, the Erie Art Museum held an exhibition of his work. He also won the 2016 Bruce Morton Wright Artist of the Year Award from Erie Arts & Culture. Bayuzick, a Cambridge Springs resident, divides his weekdays teaching at the Erie Day School and the Bayfront Alternative Education Program for at-risk students, where Lake Erie LifeStyle spoke with him.
LEL: On your website, you write that the attitude and mood of your art is “dependent upon the attitude of where I am at the moment.” Do you mean that physically or existentially?
RN: Both! You never know what’s going to happen when you try to get something going creatively. When there’s material around — maybe even scrap — I utilize what’s in front of me. At home, I usually have paint available real quickly, and in my garage I have tons of different things to work with. That’s what I mean when I talk about creating in the moment. I never know what I will create. I am not a planner. Sometimes I think, ‘I’ll go down and do this’ but it never works out that way. I usually just take it as it comes. The project usually starts talking back to you — I hate to say it that way — it will start telling me what needs to be done.
LEL: Do you hope the students you teach get that? It must be a difficult idea to teach young people.
RB: Well, it’s almost impossible. When you are in a teaching situation, which is pretty stable, your presence generates that moment. (In a) classroom situation, you never know if the kids will try something different. They may not. At the Erie Day School, we have programmed those kids over there to progress. We are doing Kids as Curators. They are actually building sculptures with what they have curated, what they have collected. There’s very little spontaneity there. They bring the stuff in and we stick it on the wall.
LEL: In your own life, do you apply that idea of spontaneity when working on your art?
RB: Oh, every day. I had a friend who told me that I was like a butterfly in the morning. I just fly from one flower to another until I settle on one. I don’t know what’s going to happen right away in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I have long-term projects, but I don’t know when I’m going to get to them.
LEL: Were you that way before you became an artist?
RB: I can’t remember that far back, but I was always interested in art. When I was in high school in Pittsburgh, we had an art teacher who was also a ballet dancer. He really generated an interest in art that was different from the usual rote art lessons. He allowed us to be creative, and that’s when it bloomed. The big thrust came in graduate school at Kent State. That’s when I really became immersed in the art lifestyle. It was important to me.
LEL: What made it important?
RB: I was doing an MFA (master of fine arts) project. I was learning about art history. Everything was happening at once at a university level. It was much different from the college level. It was more universal and more international. I had to make a decision in 1970 to either quit my day job and go to New York City or stay with the steady work as a high school art teacher, and try to bloom from that. Unfortunately, as I look back now, I wish I had gone to New York City because I’d probably be more famous than I am. That time was still ripe for young artists. Now you wouldn’t dare do that. It is just different now.
LEL: Besides teaching, you are well-known for painting, as well as sculpting with wood and metal. Is that an unusual combination of talents?
RB: I think it is. I think I’m fairly unique because I not only carve (wood) but also weld (metal). I can teach. I can paint. I collect antiques. I am very versatile. I’m really good at a lot of things. I’m maybe not superior in everything but I’m good at things. One thing I can’t do real well is extreme realism. I’ve avoided trying to become a realist. Some people say you have a high cognitive level if you are not a realist but I’m not so sure about that. I’m more abstract, although some of the stuff I’m doing now is a little more realistic.
LEL: Where does that mix come from?
RB: The only thing I can think of is that my father was a chemist at US Steel in Pittsburgh, but he was also a printer. And my mother was an artist. She would draw and paint. We grew up with the idea of doing multiple things at one time. That might have been the beginning of it. They pushed art on my brother and me. We went to Carnegie Museum every Saturday for art lessons. For us — this was the ’50s and ’60s — we had music and art lesson as well as free reign at home. I think it bloomed from all of that.
LEL: Do you think children today don’t get enough exposure to art?
RB: They don’t and I don’t know what’s taking its place. What replaces art right now? I don’t know. Anything replaces it — in a minute. It happens that quick. It’s the culture … parents “didn’t want their kids wasting their time doing this art stuff.” They want them to be lawyers, technicians, engineers; they didn’t want them to waste an hour a day on art.
LEL: What’s your argument to that?
RB: My argument is you’ll be a better engineer with some art education. Art in any area makes it better. Whatever you want to do, you will be better at it with some art behind it. It seems art is being replaced with money — ways to make money to survive. You don’t need art to survive although it makes life better.
LEL: You have long been involved in public art and most recently worked with Thomas Ferraro and Ed Grout on their West 12th Street industrial art project. Why do you think that type of art is important in a community?
RB: The more sculptures and murals there are, the more people will be aware that there are artists in Erie doing art. Some people here are deprived of art. It bothers me. They deserve to see art like anyone else even though it is not in their nature. Erie Arts and Culture is also an important thing in Erie. Those folks are doing their best to put art into every area — industry, education, local art, whatever it takes to get art immersed into the culture.
LEL: You work has garnered praise and awards. What’s your reaction to winning awards like the Bruce Morton Wright Artist of the Year?
RB: I was flattered by the award. But my real award was being chosen (in 2012) for juried shows down at the Carnegie Museum of Art. When I was kid, I used to walk through those galleries every Saturday morning and 50 years later, here is my work hanging in the gallery. To me, that was more than an award. I loved looking at my work in the museum. A year later, I had another piece accepted into a show. I sold it to a brain surgeon on opening night of the exhibition. When someone tells you “you could have sold that painting for three times” that — to me — is the better award.
Or another award would be him (pointing to a nearby student) making a piece of art that he was happy about. That would be a nice award too. It’s flattering to get the other ones. But there are different kinds of awards.
LEL: So what do you want to be remembered for?
RB: I want to be remembered as a caring art teacher and artist. Sometimes I don’t like people taking credit for what I did — I want to be remembered for the good stuff and not the bad stuff I did. I’d be happy just to be remembered as an art person in Erie that cared about Erie. LEL
Originally appeared in Lake Erie Lifestyle magazine, April 2017