Express Yourself: Grason Ratowsky

Grason Ratowsky has worked as creative director for several agencies in New York and spent many years in product design. Today the thirty-six-year-old artist lives on Mallorca for most of the year. And paints. We wanted to know what role the subconscious plays in his work and whether an artist has to be unhappy in order to be successful. Although Ratowsky himself makes a very satisfied impression.
Text Wiebke Brauer
Photo Kirill Kirsanov · ramp.pictures

r. Ratowsky, you’ve lived in many places around the world and today reside in Mallorca. Have you found your place?
Yeah, I think so. I was born in Florida, but my father is also an artist, and he was an entrepreneur as well, so we never stayed anywhere longer than a few years. We moved all around the US, and then to Costa Rica, until my teens, when we went to Colorado. I spent some years there, then in New York, Los Angeles and Spain. It’s been a diverse run to see a lot of different cultures and places and people, and I got used to packing bags and going to the next place. But I always had this sense of longing to find a solid place. I remember when I was growing up, I would always tell myself, “I just want to find home. I just want to go home.” And when we landed in Mallorca, it felt like: “Okay, this could be home for a while. This feels right. This feels good.”

In New York you worked as a creative director and designer, now you do expressionist painting. That sounds like a big rupture. Are there any parallels?
I was creative director for lots of big agencies and I’ve been a designer for the last fifteen or seventeen years or so, designing everything from furniture to handbags. But I think that one’s creative energy kind of flows into the next thing. And those things aren’t mutually exclusive, there aren’t any real lines defined in the sand as to what is art and what isn’t. I think they cross over.

Is there a line between craftsmanship and art?
Yes and no. I see craftsmanship as a construct with your hands. It’s very physical, very tangible. You can feel a texture. The process is different than painting or digital design. With craftsmanship, I also think there’s a different level of technique and skill, it’s a different learning process than fine arts. But I do think the creative element of how you create things is similar.

And how did you find your painting style?
Well, like I said, my father was an artist, so he taught me a lot when I was growing up. Though our styles are very different. I’ve always been strongly influenced by the original German expressionists, by the abstract expressionists like Clyfford Still and Willem de Kooning and by the neo-expressionism movement of the seventies and eighties. I’ve always been drawn to expressionism in general.

“When we landed in Mallorca, it felt like: ‘Okay, this could be home for a while. This feels right. This feels good.’”

Grason Ratowsky

Why is that?
There’s this interconnectivity that speaks to all of us through art, no matter what culture you’re from, what you believe in, how you grew up or what color your skin is. And I think that people can feel something like that especially with the expressionists. People can find their own story in an expressionist work, and that makes it completely universal. Despite the fact that what I see is totally different from what you see. It’s based on what our subconscious is telling us. I think it’s inherent in everyone to have this connection to certain pieces that speak to them. That’s why I love art in the first place, but expressionist works in particular. They’re alive. They’re not as obvious as a figurative realism piece where everyone kind of sees the same thing. An expressionist work has a life of its own, it lives, it breathes, it continues to grow and changes for everyone who views it.

“There’s this interconnectivity that speaks to all of us through art.”
-
Grason Ratowsky

Still, there is American art and there’s European art.
Historically, yes. But let’s say you have no knowledge of art history. Even if you’re somewhere in Africa, you can have a similar feeling than someone in the US or in South America. A work of art can evoke emotions and a sense of awe or wonder or curiosity or inspiration. And that’s a universal interconnectivity that I think everyone shares.

You mentioned the subconscious. What role does the subconscious play in painting?
It starts with these wild strokes, attacking a surface – whatever that surface is. And then you sit back, or at least I do, and deduce what that abstraction could be. I try to decipher what my subconscious is telling me. I ask myself: Is this a memory? Is this an experience? Is this something I’m trying to say that I can’t put into words? Is it some secret I’m trying to expose? So there are all these things I’m trying to decipher as I build the piece, throughout the whole process. And then, as you start to develop the form and figure, or at least an emotional sense of what you’re trying to convey, the subconscious is put into this physical work of art, into a physical, tangible element that people can experience.

“It starts with these wild strokes, attacking a surface.”

Grason Ratowsky

How long does it take to paint a picture?
That depends. A lot of times I start with something like action painting. It’s emotional and sometimes I manage to get it done within three or four days. But oftentimes it takes me two months or more because I keep going back to reevaluate and redefine what I’m trying to say. I make sure the colors are right, the composition is right, the balance is right. But there comes a point where you just can’t add or deduct any more.

So it’s a gut feeling?
Yeah, there aren’t any rules behind it. It’s just this feeling that I’m done saying what I’m trying to say. I sign it and I’m done. And you can’t touch it after that.

[…]

→ Read the whole interview with Grason Ratowsky in rampstyle #23.

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