Artist James Ransom is a huge fan of Parliament and Fancadelles. So much so, that one of their tunes provided the soundtrack when Ransome accepted the Painters’ Society Gold Award during a virtual ceremony on Thursday.
For his acceptance speech, the award-winning painter held cue cards with thanks, as he jumped on the music. He said, “This is what happens sometimes when I paint, and it’s a little different from what happens when I paint.” (When he demonstrates, he listens to jazz.)
Ransom is known and loved for its illustrations, especially for its many children’s books. But at the age of 60 he recently earned a master’s degree in fine arts and is developing a parallel career as a painter. His gold award was for Who Should Own Black Art – a painting and a book jacket – and his acceptance speech acknowledged some of his influences, including his mentor, Jerry PinkneyMember of the Painters Association, Hall of Fame.
“In the beginning, if you watch him, you can see his tendencies in that direction in how he articulates it,” says Pinkney. “You can see his brushstrokes, his quality of drawing; his focus on story. He approached his drawings as a painter approaches canvas.”
Like Pinkney, Ransom has focused on books on African American personalities in history, politics, sports, and the arts. at Before you were Harriet, Ransom turns over Harriet Tubman as she guides its passengers on the Tube to freedom. at Game variables, He goes to the court with tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
at My story, my dance Written by Lisa Klein Ransom, his wife and constant collaborator – Ransom illustrates the story of Robert Patel, who transformed from a boy wearing girdles on his leg to a professional dancer, choreographer and leader of a world-famous dance company. Ransome’s illustrations unfold almost like a movie – some are multiple line drawings on a page, covered in pastel colors of a young, action-packed.
In many of Ransom’s books, he will combine his paintings, drawings, and pieces of paper, to put together pictures.
“I have baskets and boxes of papers everywhere …” he says. “It’s like a quilt maker – a quilt maker who takes an old shirt … it becomes part of a quilt. And that’s what I find great – the patterns, shapes, colors and how you can put it back together.”
It’s a bit like putting together the text that Ransome provided as a starting point for his illustrations.
“I’m trying to find something between words, and between sentence and sentence combinations,” he explains. “I’m trying to find a kind of thing that the writer doesn’t necessarily describe or talk about. There’s a soul. This is what I kind of call, kind of an in-between space that I’m seeking.”
For now, Ransom intends to keep up with both his artistic practice and his work as a painter. He sees books as a natural bridge for young readers.
“I feel like, you know, I kind of want to bring them, or kind of be that bridge between what’s in their hands, or what they’re keeping, and going to a museum.”
On the door outside Ransom’s studio, there is a saying, in multicolored letters, attributed to the painter Edward Degas: “Art is not what you see. It is what you make others see.”
For artist and illustrator James Ransom, this applies to his work whether it is in a book or on the wall.