A conversation between Alex Allenchey and Bony Ramirez
You were born in the Dominican Republic and currently live in New Jersey. When did you leave the DR and what, if any, role does it play in your art-making?
I formally left my country in 2009. I had previously come to the US as a tourist in 2005, but in 2009 we decided to officially move here. The move made a big impact on my life. Most of my older works are about the grief that comes with leaving your family, your roots, and your culture. Sometimes I feel like I can retain my Dominican culture by plastering it into my art where I’ll never forget it. Recently I have been feeling that way a lot, expressing and representing Caribbean culture and manners in my figures. Also, I’ve been exploring the Caribbean immigrant perspective on American culture.
What was your first encounter with art and when did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Growing up in a highly religious country like the Dominican Republic, where the bible is still part of the public school curriculum, my first encounters with art were Catholic imagery, saint sculptures, depictions of Christ, etc. So as a kid I would make copies of these paintings and figures and just gave them out to the ladies at church as they left mass. I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist since I could remember. I took it more seriously when I realized I was really good in art class while in high school.
I enjoyed learning new methods and experimenting with my work. I used to be more drawn to sculptures, which I still work on, since interior design is also a big thing that inspires my work. After graduating from high school I was unable to attend college, but I really wanted to pursue art as a career, so I just kept making and making work, and applying to different open calls and opportunities to get myself and my art noticed. So far I am very proud of the things I have accomplished without having an institutional background.
There’s a curious quality to the people in your paintings, which have these highly expressive and detailed upper bodies, with the figures’ limbs trailing and transforming into more bulbous forms. Can you explain how you arrived at this distinctive style?
I’ve never liked rulers or restraints when creating art. For figurative works people are often drawn to correct proportions. That is something that I wanted to stay away from, since I felt that limited my artistic practice. I started to be more loose with creating limbs. Three fingers, giant legs, multi-jointed arms, etc. As well as varying the skin tones throughout the body. All of this while keeping the figures still recognized as a human being. I first experimented loosely drawing an exaggerated form of the human figure, and then adding muscles and joints as if this type of anatomy existed. All of the figures have unique joints to themselves, none of them have the same type of contortion, but they still look cohesive enough to be identified as a figure made by me.
You briefly mentioned interior design as an influencing factor. Could you tell me more?
My brain has the problem of always thinking of the space I would want a painting to be exhibited in. I’m usually drawn to elaborate, baroque-type interiors. There was a period where I brought those types of interiors into my paintings, like “The Desire of Power” for example. On the other hand, works like “Feeding a Child Of The Ocean” might clash with that setting, as the figures are too strong to just blend with the space. I like the way interior designers combine different textures, colors, and shapes to create a space. I use the same method, but to create multi-media artworks.
I noticed many of your works include a number of materials; acrylic paint, colored pencil, pastels, even marble tiles. Have you always worked with such varied materials?
I don’t like limiting myself when it comes to materials. I’ve always loved different methods of making art, so after learning a lot of them, I used the ones that best fit my work. My artworks are basically drawings on top of paintings. The subjects are made on paper and then pasted onto a wood panel. Marble has also been an incredible material to paint over, it’s literally a painting made by nature, so to complement that with my work it’s simply amazing. I am a very tactile artist, I like to feel and see different textures and layers in my work.
What is your painting process like? How do you begin a work?
All of my artworks start with a loose main idea and composition. This evolves as I take the small drawing in my sketchbook onto the panel. I never make a preliminary drawing of how the piece is going to look like at the end. It all comes to mind as I’m working on them. The selection of colors, shapes, or mood in the work comes later on. Some things work and others don’t. Working this way gives me more freedom while maintaining the general idea of what I want to portray.
On the technical side, my figures are made on paper. I do an acrylic wash as the main layer, which I then go over with a colored pencil. Once that’s done, I blend the color pencil with oil pastel, getting rid of the pencil marks that I don’t want to keep. After that I tighten the details with colored pencils again. Simultaneously, I’m working on the background, which is separate, usually on a wood panel. I cut out the paper figure and play around with its placement on the panel. After that I paste the figure onto the panel and try to blend it in, adding light tones, shadows, etc., so that the figure looks like it’s one with the panel, instead of a collage. In some cases I embrace the collage aspect of my work and make it more obvious to the viewer by adding different layers and types of paper, fabric and other materials.
You mention on your website that the anatomical alterations reflect specifically on certain topics. Could you describe how you incorporate meaning behind a piece?
A lot of my pieces have underlying meanings, they may not be too obvious in the paintings themselves, but sometimes I give it away in the titles. Take “Invasion” for example. The figure is in her own space. She can be seen looking angrily at the viewer, as the viewer is invading her personal space, a space she created for her own solitude that is being interrupted. This piece is a study on consent, and most of my pieces have a message or story to tell. I never like making a piece that doesn’t have a meaning or backstory from the start. In this day and age people want to interpret things how they see them, so I make sure that there’s at least one initial meaning, chosen by the original creator.
Are there art historical periods or painters that you regularly return to or reference? Who and what are you looking at currently?
I am heavily inspired by the renaissance period when it comes to composition. I’m also inspired a lot by the Italian Mannerists, since they also stayed away from completely anatomical correctness. I look at Peter Paul Rubens and Picasso. I also look at a lot of photography, even though it’s the only medium I feel I will never try. Some photographers I like are Nick Knight and Carlota Guerrero. I’ve also always loved how both Jonathan Lyndon Chase and Tschabalala Self explore their identity through their figures, and I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to exhibit with a galley that they’ve both shown in. This gives me a sense that I am on the right path.
How do you see the paintings evolving? What future projects do you have planned?
I definitely see myself using a bigger selection of materials. As well as collaging different things in my paintings. I plan to put a bigger focus on the anatomical side of my subjects as well as more simple but striking backgrounds. I also hope to take my figures to the 3D aspect. Maybe making sculptures that complement or go with the paintings. I’ve also been looking a lot into sharp objects to future artworks.