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Between Abstract & Realistic

Alma Ramirez experiments with waterscapes


Alma Ramirez’s painting are a visual ballet of vibrant hues tangling with earthy tones in pixelated water scenes at once both realistic and abstract. The result is otherworldly. Her paintings will speak to your soul, as the waterscapes and vivid colors of Northeast Florida speak to her.

French Impressionist Claude Monet once said, “Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” Ramirez is a big fan of the Impressionists and Monet in particular and, like Monet, she has always been drawn to color. The artist fondly recalls her parents—both medical professionals—bringing her, when she was a young girl, to their lab and introducing her to the microscopic world of bacteria. Her sister was thoroughly absorbed by the science behind it, but she was fascinated by the beautiful colors and spent her time drawing or painting little bacteria. “All my family’s into science. I’m the only artist. The black sheep, you know, every family has one,” she tells Folio Weekly with a laugh.

“Very early, I remember, I used to be attracted by the color and the shapes of the things around me,” Ramirez says. She recalls standing in front of Monet’s work years later in Paris, captivated by the colors and the power of his paintings. “I was mesmerized in front of this painting and it made me feel like I was there in the moment. Everything in that room was talking to me and that’s the way I want my collectors to feel: peaceful, serene, and immersed in this moment.”

Ramirez’s art deeply reflects her surroundings. “I was born and raised in Mexico in a desert area where we didn’t have [much] access to water. When I moved here, surrounded by the ocean, the rivers, the springs, the water, I was overwhelmed and I loved it,” she says. “My afternoon walks always were by the water. I felt a very powerful connection with this element. I went for walks by the beach and I felt so calm and refreshed. I think water was the main influence into my body of work and my colors changed as well. When I was painting in the desert where I grew up, my colors were more sienna, brown, terra cotta. Once I moved here, the colors started popping out.”

The captivating exchange of light and color reflected in water transformed Ramirez’s artistic palate. Her current show, By the Water, at the Cathedral Arts Project’s Heather Moore Community Gallery in Downtown Jacksonville, is a celebration of color. Inspired largely by local marinas and waterways, the collection is stunning.

These waterscapes are semi-representational; they depict a largely recognizable world but they’re geometric and abstraction. The style was influenced by a technical mishap. “The story is quite entertaining for me to tell,” she explains. “When I first came to Jacksonville, I didn’t have a smartphone. To take pictures, I brought my small camera with me. I took pictures at the beach, and the camera fell in the water. I got hit by a wave. I was very disappointed. When I went home, I took the memory card out of the camera and put it into the computer to read the pictures. The pictures were messed up. They were somehow pixilated and somehow clear. I found that amazing and inspiring that in those pixels, you can see the image that was the beach. I was inspired by the idea of changing something broken into something beautiful, because it was indeed beautiful to me. It was between abstract and realistic.”

The Jacksonville resident earned a B.A. in Fine Arts from the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Chihuahua, Mexico and dreamed of being an art teacher. She met her future husband while pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts in El Paso, Texas. The couple relocated to Germany, where their son was born. “Life was very busy and got in the way and I didn’t create [for a few years],” she recalls. Her partner’s job brought them to Jacksonville, and she began getting out her brushes once again, painting after her baby went to bed. She never intended to sell her work. When her sister visited from Mexico about five years ago, she encouraged Ramirez to approach an art gallery and she did so … reluctantly: “I went into this gallery in St. Augustine and I was very afraid to ask, ‘Are you taking any more artists?’ At first she said, ‘No, we’re not taking any more artists,’ but when I took out my paintings, she said, ‘Bring me your paintings. I can sell your work.’ She ended up selling all my paintings the first month I was in the gallery, so she asked me for more work, bigger pieces. I couldn’t believe I was actually painting what I loved, not what I was asked. I was just painting from the heart all the time.”

Another gallery contacted Ramirez and her hobby became a full-time occupation. Her work now appears in galleries across the state of Florida as well as in Atlanta, Dallas, and even California.

An art educator at heart, Ramirez is thrilled to partner with Cathedral Arts Project. She’s passionate about making art accessible to children and providing opportunities for kids to build self-confidence and communication skills through the arts. “Art is the only subject where a lot of kids open their wings,” she says. “Getting to their imagination … lets [kids] make mistakes and teaches them that mistakes are good.”

Perhaps reflecting on the ‘mistake’ that showed her a new way to view—and paint—the water, she adds, “Isn’t that how the most important discoveries are made?”

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