Trying to assign a distinct style to Robert Ransom’s art is not an easy task. He threw out traditional principles — rejecting what he had been taught of the nature, value and place of art. Even his method, informed in part by his choice in media, is a departure from previous instruction. While holding the end of a black ballpoint pen he draws with scribbling motions using either hand. “I rediscovered a natural way for me to draw. This was the way I drew when I drew the first thing that was recognizable. I was four years old and had a red crayon in the back porch of my grandparents home in Burley and saw something in my scribbles.” Some have described his technique as extended gesture and his imagery as surrealism. Others have commented that the emotion of some of his artwork as dark and difficult to witness, but are nevertheless drawn by the beauty of its representation. Ransom does not censor the emerging image and has arrived at an appreciation for art as his best life teacher. He puts the pen to paper creating art with strength and has the courage to be self-revealing. A single image may take nine months to complete, spending an hour or two the first thing every morning as he has for the past 25 years.
As a boy, Ransom’s mother kept the budding artist preoccupied with ballpoint pens from her purse. She stopped taking him to church when he was 6 years old, however, due to the distraction generated by the caricatures he would draw of members of the congregation. His first opportunity to take an art class at school didn’t occur until he was in the seventh grade at Filer. Not only was the class a huge disappointment for him, but he also received an F. Its an assessment he still laughs about and considers his favorite.
Feeling that his talent was unsupported and lacked a future, Ransom attempted to distance himself from it. As a senior in high school he believed the best opportunity for him to get out of the small town was to enlist in the Marine Corps. He went on to graduate from Officers Candidate School, but an injury caused his discharge.
His mother, hopeful that he would return to art and knowing the value of a liberal arts education, put Ransom through four years of college at Boise State University, where he gained inspiration from artist John Killmaster.
After receiving a BFA, Ransom worked as an illustrator but did not feel connected to the work in a meaningful way. Then, while helping to build his parents cabin north of Fairfield, he made a breakthrough. Needing a break from the frustration, he grabbed his sketchbook and headed to the bank of Soldier Creek to focus on something else. “The frustration was too much and eventually I gave it free reign on the page. What emerged was an image that was cartoony but it contained the element of truth I’ve been following since.”
Ransom stopped doing illustration. He put his paintings in storage and pursued a master’s degree in Art Therapy from the University of New Mexico. After graduating, he returned to Idaho but was unable to gain employment as a therapist. He then returned to school and gained a MFA in Media Arts from the University of Montana.
Though admiring the work of many artists, he credits Idaho with being his primary artist influence. Cultural circumstances have had the effect of compressing subjectivity through the point of a pen. The pressure to conform during his formative years intensified his individualistic spirit that was supported his mother, who insisted that he think for himself. His mother was a school teacher and she advised him to steer clear of the profession; but he has been drawn there nevertheless. Ransom is employed as the Psycho-Social Rehabilitation Specialist at Xavier Charter School in Twin Falls. While some therapists look at a child’s art for a diagnosis, Ransom views art as acted out in a manner specific to it’s creator. He then facilitates the formation of a life narrative the student can claim full ownership of. In working with teenagers, he is mindful of a lesson gained from a basketball coach who gave up on him. “I’ve worked with a number of kids over the years who feel unseen and anticipate that an adult is going to pass on them. I won’t do that.”
Lacking gallery representation, Ransom’s exposure to the public is limited to the coffee houses and taverns that he frequents. Interested people approach for a look and often hang around to discuss their experience of art, then return weeks later to see how an image has progressed. On occasion someone will request to view the image the artist was working on when they met several years previously. Ransom values meeting the people and appreciates the conversations he would never have if sequestered in a studio.
Though willing to share the story associated with an image, Ransom wants his art to stand on its own, and does not want it to be subservient to the written word as it had been as an illustrator. It is inseparable from his life, even if it means receiving criticism. His unique and diversely creative art deals with the most intimate of subjects. Love, sorrow, and death are revealed in surprising vulnerability. Ransom says, “It is what art is all about and hopefully something will correspond within the viewer.”
You can learn more about Robert Ransom’s art on his FACEBOOK page.