Ransford Simon grew up carefully observing his older brother draw and paint his own portraits from a mirror. He described him as a naturally talented individual, who, despite having no formal art training, had the opportunity to attend the E.R. Burrowes School of Art but opted instead to pursue his studies in agriculture. For the younger Simon sibling, on the other hand, he knew that if given the opportunity to attend the art school, he simply would not be able to pass it up.
After completing his studies at the Annai Secondary School in Region Nine, Simon applied for and was awarded a scholarship from the Ministry of Education to be professionally trained at the art school. This award signalled the beginning of Simon’s two-year journey as an eager student of the visual arts.
“At secondary school, my art teacher inspired me. He saw the passion I had for art and he helped me. That’s how I got to Burrowes. I always wanted to go to the art school so I didn’t miss the chance. I went into the art school the same year I wrote CXC before I even got my results,” he said.
This eagerness to learn more about art and in the process hone his creative techniques, would become one of the major characteristics that would see him through the difficult times when he wrestled with things like uncertainty and lack of materials. He makes no attempt to disguise the fact that the confidence he now wields with his brush and pencil wasn’t always there. In fact, Simon describes a very awkward start to his journey at the art school.
“I always wanted to do painting. It was challenging at first but I got to like it eventually. The first painting class we had for watercolour was hard for me. I kept dropping paint all over. I felt like giving up because it was painting that I went for and I wasn’t getting it. But after that, I started to like it. I started experimenting. It was different but I’m accustomed to it now. I got faster and better,” he said.
His love for painting was followed closely by an almost equal love for sculpture after he was introduced to the various materials and techniques associated with the subject.
“Before I went to the art school I used to make things like noses out of clay. I once tried to make an Arapaima out of wood. I didn’t have any tools and it didn’t come out good because I didn’t know anything about sculpture back then. But after I started carving at the art school I said, ‘This is what I came here for’,” Simon said.
Regardless of the medium he chooses to explore, Simon is much more interested in capturing the essence of his subjects realistically, even if the composition is leaning a bit more towards a surrealism as it tends to occasionally.
The umbrella theme for his works, “The beauty of nature in Guyana” has made room for his explorations into a topic he describes as being dear to him since he grew up in the interior. The intention for this body of work, he says, was to encourage viewers to visit those hinterland areas so that they can observe nature’s beauty for themselves and cultivate a deeper appreciation for it. His use of colour (particularly greens, blues and colours typically associated with nature) and his application of paint on the canvas work together, is to create exactly the kind of atmospheric qualities that would encourage travel to those regions.
“George Simon was my first inspiration. I saw his work for the first time at Castellani House. After that, I met Compton Babb, who was mentored by Carl Anderson. I had private classes with Compton every Saturday and we would draw in the gardens,” Simon said.
“I practiced my style and learned to be patient. I also learned to go more realistic with colours and how to make the paintings look like photographs. After that, I went to a Jorge Bowen-Forbes exhibition and then I learned how to make things realistic without going too detailed.”
Despite his shaky start with some of the courses at the art school, Simon admits that he could have benefitted tremendously from a longer programme and longer daily working hours.
“It would be good if the school had longer programmes. I don’t think it’s enough as it is. When classes finish at 16:00hrs you still have paint on your palette and you still feel like you could work more, even until night. It was only coming down to graduation that we got to work after hours,” he said.
Like so many others before, Simon reiterated the importance of drawing as a foundational component to every creative practice.
“Drawing should be done every day. That’s the key to everything. If you’re into textiles or ceramics you have to know how to draw. Some people go to Burrowes and they don’t know how to draw so they have a hard time. But I would say keep drawing and focus. Don’t give up.”
When asked about his plans for the future Simon expressed an interest in improving a few of his CSEC grades, before eventually moving on to the University of Guyana to continue his art education.
Simon and 10 others recently completed the certificate programme while three students completed the school’s diploma programme. The end of their studies was marked by an exhibition of their works at the Umana Yana Benab back in August of this year.
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on October 15, 2017. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: