by M. Ramieri
So, I finally sat down and started to write this thing. Forgive me for the delay. I'd ask you to consider that the least exciting prospect in the life of a Paleoartist is to sit down and write about himself. As debilitatingly egregious as that usually sounds, it is a ruthless kind of pain when you would already "Rather be sculpting dinosaurs."
Since my earliest memories, I have enjoyed dinosaurs. I remember filling copious quantities of sketchpads with illustrations of T. rex doing all sorts of sordid things. My mother was attentive to my artistic impulses and constantly brought home clean, new, unadulterated, bound white pages for me to devour. So, T. rex got a lot of action in the Ramieri household. Typically, he'd be ripping something (usually someone) apart. I went through many red Crayola markers to accurately describe the inevitable torrent of blood that marked every "Matt-Made" T. rex encounter. I would delight in a new, never-before-used red marker because the red was just so darn red ( as opposed to the faded pink that a worn marker would be reduced to). Occasionally other dinosaurs made appearances in my dinosaur Tombs of Terror. Still, if I am to tell it like it is, I have to concede that they existed purely as playthings of my Ravenous Rexies.
I did not just draw rexes; my mother also provided me with re-useable oil-based Plasteline that inevitably made its way into T. rex shapes of all sizes. The clay would come in various colors, so I would first use the different colors to denote other parts. For instance, maybe I would use white for the teeth and red for the eyes. However, not long into the tenure of any box of Plastiline, homogenization of color would occur (often smashed together and mixed all up out of frustration-unable to manifest the images from my mind's eye). In short order, I would deal with lumps of grey-brown-greenish globs instead of easily distinguished separate colors. Honestly, that suited me just fine. At that time, everyone knew that T. rex was brown, grey, green, or some combination of those colors.
I was so enthralled with the Tyrant King that I drew him (it was ALWAYS a him) all over everything. I drew him on the beautifully brown-paper-covered school books my mother covered for me and on the desks and in bathroom stalls. It is a wonder (now that I am thinking about it) that I never got pulled aside and slapped on the wrist for drawing all over everything. I really cannot remember ever having been scolded for it. Not to belabor the point, but one memory stands out in particular about my T. rex obsession...
Not my drawing... just illustrating the point.
This memory came at one point in my childhood, maybe in third grade; I just can't be sure of the actual year or my age. However, I am sure that I was pretty young. It was sometime in elementary school because I clearly remember Mrs. Gozonski (spelling?).
Mrs. Gozonski was my art teacher in elementary school. Not to be a braggart, but I can tell you that I was the proverbial "Shit" when it came to art in elementary school. I mean, nobody compared to me regarding artistic talent back then. All my classmates knew it, as did I- they were always asking me to draw this and that for them, so I knew that I was the "most artistic" of all my classmates. However, Mrs. Gonzonski would always downplay my talent and respond to my work with a tepid, unenthusiastic side-mouthed smirk. She would consistently mark my report card with an "S" instead of an "O," which ticked me off. "S" stood for "Satisfactory," while "O" stood for "Outstanding ."If you are the best in the class, doesn't that inherently make you "Outstanding"? She did this (I even knew it at that young age) because I was always painting and drawing blood and violence. This offended her sensibilities. So, the kids who drew daisies and painted butterflies won the "O"'s, while I and my Ravenous Rexies got the shaft.
Anyway, this one particular memory took place in Gozonski's art class. She made the most fantastic announcement that a dinosaur-loving kid could ever want to hear on this day. She told us that because of a brand new dinosaur discovery, Gozonski would enter us into a competition to have our artwork displayed publicly- in a very public place for all to see! Now, I wasn't so excited about the public display; I was excited that Gozonski would let us paint dinosaurs for DAYS in her class... during the school day! I was going to be ALLOWED to draw dinosaurs in school. This was an epic moment of monumental proportions. I immediately imagined my T.rex drawing/painting on the giant rolls of paper that Gozonski hoarded in the art room. I dove into the most creative recesses of my burgeoning brain to develop the most robust, raucous, raging T. rex of them all!
Now, I had always had a way of escaping into my imagination's wild and wonderful world at the slightest prompting on any given day back then. Looking back, I am sure that I would (in today's terms) be diagnosed with ADHD. I was always daydreaming, so I often got a slap on the wrist. So, it is not surprising that on this day, with this news, Gozonski put my brain asunder.
Gozonski went on to explain that our work was going to be displayed at the Newark Airport with a big sign that said that Gozonski's class of blah, blah, blah, from Center Grove Elementary School. She also explained that the discovery was of the thigh bone of a dinosaur that they were calling "Ultrasaurus ."She went on babbling about and carrying on while all I wanted to do was start on my most amazing T. rex illustration ever! Finally, the white noise of Gozonski's jabbering stopped, and she started cutting off big slices of pristine white paper. I would turn the modern world inside out with those glorious white empty sheets. The Earth would never be the same once my ultimate "Ultra-Tyrannosaurus Master Beast" had been created!
I don't remember a whole lot about actually making the illustration. I feel like I can remember it being big and brown, but that's about it. When it came time to turn it in, Gozonski gave me that typically half-smirk of hers. That ticked me off extra that day because I didn't even use a tiny bit of red for blood this time. I knew that she wouldn't like it, and more importantly, for blood to be present T. rex would have had to share space on the page with the creature it was eating. I wasn't down for this T. rex sharing any space. Anyway, she collected my artwork and everyone else's. Then she hung them up for a critique as she would always do.
Well, that's when my bubble began, let's say, deflating. A pattern emerged as Gozonski started putting all of the drawings/paintings on the wall. All of the other kids had illustrated enormous sauropod dinosaurs. Hmmm. I wondered what the heck was going on. I know other kids in the class would have wanted to make T. rexes, so what's the deal? She kept hanging them, and they kept being big Brontosaurus or Brachiosaurus ( the only sauropods kids knew about those days), and then, BAM! My T.rex goes up amidst a hail of muffled chuckles from the peanut gallery. Mrs. Gozonski muttered something as she begrudgingly hung my image up. I don't know what she said, but I would imagine it likely had something to do with paying attention to the directions.
At any rate, I was pretty embarrassed by the whole thing, but I carried on like I was "Devil-May-care." Such a rebel was I that I snubbed my nose at convention, lit the playbook on fire, and never asked for forgiveness. That's what I wanted the ladies to think, anyway. The truth was that I was so embarrassed that I pretended to completely forget to tell my parents about the showing at the airport. The one that everyone else's family went to. You can bet that I was the topic of conversation at many dinner tables that night.
It turns out that not too long after the showing, my family took a trip somewhere. I have no idea where we went, but I remember vividly turning the corner and seeing dinosaur illustrations made by kids lining the wall. As I investigated further, I noticed that they were all sauropods. Then I saw the sign: "Mrs. Gozonski's X grade class at Center grove Elementary ."I shuddered and skipped a step. With mighty trepidation, I scanned the collection of sauropods in search of the lone meat eater. Lo-and-behold, there was none to be found! I could not believe it. In a flash, I was relieved and pissed off, all in one emotional sack of self-loathing. I guess that Mrs. Gozonski thought it best to save my face or hers. Either way, she left my lonely theropod illustration out of the bunch.
Believe it or not, or believe it, seeing as you just read it here- that memory stuck with me. It fits into all varieties of nostalgia, both negative and positive. Obviously, the negatives- my hubris at the time, my inability to pay attention, my obliviousness, obsessiveness, etc. They say nostalgia tends to be a positive experience regardless of the negative triggers that may underpin it. I'd say that this is an excellent example of that. When I think about dinosaurs today, I think about that moment, but I am filled with a warm sense of home. I think about adventure, excitement, and the beautiful mysteries of the lives of these majestic creatures. These days, thoughts of dinosaurs compel me back to my studio and back at the helm of my "Command Center," where all of the prehistoric creatures of my mind's eye take form.
Between elementary school and today, as with any of life's stories, there were a lot of ups and downs. Keeping it to my artistic evolution, even that was a tumultuous ride. I went from being the "Boss" artistically in elementary school to being the undisputed middle school champion. I moved from one town to another for seventh grade, and I walked into that place taller, thinner, and the meanest artist any of my cohorts had seen. I was very into role-playing games at the time, so I drew all of my characters and my friend's characters for the games. Once the other kids started seeing my artwork, they went kind of nuts over it. It was a whole-nother round of "draw me this, and draw me that." The difference here was that the ladies were actually ladies ( to a pubescent seventh grader), and they dug the talent. Wink, wink. I drew all manner of funny characters on girls' hands while I was supposed to listen to the teacher or watching a movie in class. My artistic prowess was so far beyond that of my contemporaries that my art teacher, Mr. Fluker took copies of a whole bunch of my characters and filled a wall in the hallway with them. This included a big cut-out construction paper and a bold filigree title: "Matt Ramieri, Artist."
From two years of "Flying on Wings of Human Dignity" (as my father, the Great Dr. Ramieri, would say) in middle school, high school was a bit of a change. I was still top of the class by most people's standards, but the pond had grown much more extensive (as several middle schools fed the high school), and two tremendously talented artists were teaching more than one type of artistic discipline.
In the early years of high school, Freshman and Sophomore, I still owned the place. I remember clearly as my teacher, Mr. Douglas ( an incredible artist I admired quite a bit), holding a drawing I had done in his hands. He shook his head and said something to the effect of: "Man, I wish I were able to draw like that when I was your age." I could tell he meant it, too.
High School was when I understood that my talents were mostly attuned to the three dimensions. I truly sucked at painting in both acrylics and oil. However, I was building very good representational terracotta sculpture ( very good for my age). This was not pottery. I was working on anatomy in sketch on paper, and in physical form in clay. Mr. Douglas even had a small furnace set up, and I had a chance to make tiny bronze and lead statues. That is where I became infected by the bronze bug.
As things go, I was a growing teenager with all of the distractions of a young person. My interest in art gave way to girls, the Grateful Dead, and marijuana. In short order, by the time I was a senior, my artistic progress had become a ghost in the halls. My art teachers, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Marrero were notably disappointed in the direction I took in those last couple of years. They didn't have too much to say, but I know this in what they did not say and how they said what they did say. That disappointment haunts me today. As I am sculpting at my Command Center, I often wonder if they would approve of what I have become... or if they would say that I could have been much better.
My work didn't fall off entirely, so I could get into Art School before whoring and smoking away my last few days of high school. I decided to go to the University of Hartford Art School. The school was mediocre academically, but the art school was rated in the upper echelons and had an excellent post-college placement rate for artists. The Connecticut campus was beautiful, and I fell in love with it on my first visit.
After the debauchery that was my senior year of high school and a very un-sober welcome to my first year away from home, I decided I wanted to focus on improving artistically. I had blown the majority of freshman year getting high and chasing women, so by the time the smoke cleared, I felt I had some catching up to do. By sophomore year I had developed a great relationship with my drawing and printmaking instructor, Jim Lee. I became his teacher assistant for a few classes and became very interested in printmaking. I continued taking figure modeling classes for sculpture and an introductory bronze casting class, but the formal sculpture curriculum wasn't great. I decided to major in printmaking because I loved all of the processes, it forced me to grow as a sketch artist and renderer, and I had the opportunity to teach along the way.