Interviewed January 3, 2016 | Written and photographed by Ilya Natarius
Art made from heavy natural influence — this is the topic of the hour as I sit down to talk with Ramses Alarcon-Sanchez, a visual artist known for his line work layered on top of found photographs and other media. Ramses and I meet at Caffetto Cafe to chat, then go to Cedar Lake and experience the lesser-known paths around there — the place that he chose as a representation of what truly drives him in his work.
The path surrounding the lake is covered in snow and fallen tree branches. Animal tracks follow close by, some straying down near the frozen-over surface of the lake. Very few people are out, with only one or two small groups passing us on the trail while we’re there. We walk past Hidden Beach; seeing it truly hidden and empty in the winter gives it a different, more serene feeling than of the summer, when it’s usually packed with people. “These paths past Hidden Beach are usually less crowded and more exclusive in the summer,” Ramses says as we walk down the snow-covered trail beyond the confines of the beach and through the bare trees, taking in the scenery.
Much of Ramses’ work is driven by his experiences in nature and being disconnected from the modern world and more connected with the natural world. Throughout his life, the spaces have changed, but as long as they are places where he can be on his own and think, Ramses has always felt a pull to be in a more natural setting. “I can work through my thoughts and ideas and life decisions out there, and at the same time be inspired to create works of art,” he explains. Being very in tune with his surroundings, Ramses’ work often comes from a place that’s close to them. Often creating visual art with the desire for others to take what they choose from his pieces, his style employs creating a visual mirror — an image to provoke an emotional response with no message other than to draw a reaction. Like his work, Ramses finds nature to be that mirror for him, often creating reactions within himself as he spends time in it and then takes that response and turns it into artwork.
Often favoring visual styling and unique signature looks over technique when creating art, Ramses’ work is truly one of pure reaction and feeling. As Ramses and I speak about the sources of his art and how they tie in with natural spaces, as well as “safe” art, art that pushes boundaries, and his interpretation of others’ reactions to his work, I think about how many artists actually present something truly that close to them — something so full of raw emotional response with the sole intent of putting it on display. No planned themes or overarching symbolism, just artwork coming straight from the soul, hoping to elicit any kind of response from the viewer. Being around the lake means being around the emotional source of Ramses’ work and seeing it in its purest form, and connecting with his work as he had intended — by having a response of my own to my surroundings. It’s nothing short of brilliant. “To be honest I have never identified as an artist. I feel like I am everything and I am nothing. I am not better than anyone and I am not less than anyone.” Ramses’ philosophical statements such as this one paint the picture of a man in tune with his mind, body, and spirit. His artwork is very much the same way — imagery and inspiration pulled from his own reflections in the form of a collection of drawings, paintings, and mixed media. Ramses, though never identifying as an artist — in his own words, “artist is a strong word for me” — has learned how to make an impact on his audience through his work regardless of how he chooses to identify himself. His style of creating exceptionally detailed drawings of faces, birds, and symbols on top of any media he can find or create has elicited a large number of responses over the years.
“My style goes back to my childhood — I was always drawing, and it was always with pencil. My family never had money to send me to art school or classes, but I always was interested in painting and drawing. Even in newspapers and magazines I was always drawing on top of images, like what most kids did, drawing mustaches or cigarettes or glasses and making funny pictures. Over the years most people stopped when they got older, but I never did. If I had a pencil around I would draw on top of images,” Ramses says. The humorous images of childhood eventually disappeared and were replaced with more ornate works of art associated with an established and skilled visual artist.
Despite the intricate nature of the work, Ramses has only ever had one real goal: to create something that others will have a reaction to. “We only see in others what we see inside of us. The perspective of me is a reflection of you, so when someone tells me ‘Your art is really sad,’ if they think my art is sad, I feel that they’re carrying some sadness inside of them,” Ramses says. “Most people have told me that my art is really dark and that it’s really sad, and that’s okay. That’s one of the beauties of art — everyone wants to see something on their own. I don’t project any message of my own for the viewers.”
Ramses’ drive for his work comes from distancing himself from modern technology and enveloping himself in more natural environments. Throughout the years, as Ramses has lived in different cities, the location has changed but the principle has remained with him the entire time. Ever since he was a child, Ramses has always felt tied to more natural settings rather than urban jungles. “I grew up in a small town in Mexico and I was always around nature. I would always fish. We’d go down by the river, ride around on our bicycles and get into trouble. My grandfather, my mom’s dad, owned a farm and I remember going there for the entire summer and just living on the farm. It’s always been my spiritual connection to everything,” he says.
Now living in Minneapolis, Ramses has found his spiritual connection in places like the more secluded paths around the lakes in the city, often traveling there to be with his own thoughts. “In the city we have computers, cell phones, there are apartments and concrete everywhere, and we become more disconnected from each other, and from nature. The more disconnected I become from nature, the more distant I am from myself, and my ego becomes bigger and tries to shrink or
break the spirit. I can’t work like that,” Ramses says. “Every time I go to the lake or to nature, the more I feel at peace. I meditate. The more I see nature, the more I feel better about myself, the more inspired I feel. I’m able to think about whatever I’m trying to do either in my work or in my life.”
Through that philosophy, the work that Ramses creates is representative of different periods in his life — a visual log of his emotional state, as he phrases it. Favoring his immediate response transferred onto his medium of choice over technique, each piece stands alone and is not to be redone. “Maybe when I’m older and I want to go back to a piece and perfect the technique, I’ll work on it. Once in a while I’ll do it, but usually when I make work, and it’s not perfect but it’s how I see it in my mind, I leave it the way it is, because it’s representing a specific feeling. If I try to change it later on, it won’t come out the same; I might be living differently, eating differently, have different ideas, and the moment is not the same anymore, so I usually leave the artwork the way it is,” Ramses says.
With his work akin to visual journaling — conscious reactions to his surroundings and emotional state — Ramses’ work is a reminder that not all art has to be about more than the image being presented. It’s art for art’s sake, pulled from a place of vulnerability, and that’s okay. The impact that his work has on his viewers is enough to strike up a response and a conversation, as he intended. Perhaps what Ramses said in the beginning about not being an artist is true — it’s his viewers that create the artwork for themselves in the end.