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ArtPrize Artist Profile: Ripples of Influence

Underwriting support from:


by Matthew Barron with Nate Sanders, Rebecca Mason, and Adam Command

It's September again, a time when celebrations abound, leaves set out to paint sidewalks, students commence studies anew, and for the second year, downtown is set alight. Not by the autumn sun, nor the stray shard of lightning, but from the passion of nearly two thousand artists all vying for a prize greater than almost any other in the art world: ArtPrize 2010. Whether Raymond Trujillo is talking of his love for painting or Mexican folkloric dance, his passion shines through.

A man of many hats, Raymond Trujillo is always on the move. In addition to being an artist, he says, “I'm a Mexican folkloric dance instructor, a party coordinator, floral designer and a clown for birthday parties.”  Somewhere in this melee of competing interests Raymond also finds time to be a student at Grand Rapids Community College. It was a project from his art class that he entered in ArtPrize and is the reason for my speaking with him.

"Swans on the Lake," which can be seen at the GRCC Spectrum Theatre, is a 40x60 inch acrylic painting. As the title suggests, Raymond depicts three swans and a duck on a lake. Born in Mexico, he and his family emigrated to south Texas the summer before his senior year of high school. To Raymond this was a source of problems that plague his life even now. “It was a difficult transition. The language most of all. In order to understand English, first I had to learn Spanglish (a combination of Spanish and English),” he explains, which still presents problems in speaking and writing. It was through his art classes in high school and college that he was able to break down the boundaries of language and find common ground with his fellow students and a new country.

In his youth in Mexico he often competed in art contests. “I won my first art award in early grammar school,” Raymond says with a large smile. This early success coupled with his family's support enabled him to push forward with his artwork in Texas. He quickly excelled, becoming president of the art club and continuing his education at the Art Institute of Houston. After working and living in Texas for several years, he moved to Michigan for a change of environment. He eventually settled in Grand Rapids and began to accumulate the numerous job titles he now has. It was also during this time that he gave up on art.

It has not always been an easy road for Raymond. When he was in his early 30's he was engaged to a beautiful woman who had a tragic past. This past caused her to call off the wedding and set him on a downward spiral. Raymond gave up on life as he knew it, including a loss of faith and his passion for art. His view of life began to sour, and he came to identify with artists who had experienced similar sadness in their lives. Artists such as Salvador Dali, Vincent VanGogh, and Frida Kahlo consumed his studies. “Seeing how Kahlo was able to portray her sense of sadness in many of her paintings influenced how I would now get my feelings out on canvas,” Raymond explains.

Without art to fill up his life, Raymond needed new projects to focus his attention on. It was here that he began to teach at his local church about the mythology and folklore of his native Mexico. With yet another expansive smile, he notes ”I love Mexico and am so proud of its folklore and heritage.” His primary focus is traditional Mexican folkloric dance. “When I am dancing, I can be as loud and happy as I want to be."  On top of this he coordinates parties, specifically Quinceañera's, a coming of age party when girls from Mexican families reach the age of fifteen.

The freedom he feels from clowning and dancing have allowed him to overcome fears that were holding him back from painting. With a renewed interest in his art, he began to paint with a fervor. He has also branched out into the digital realm with various graphic design projects completed for local companies in and around Grand Rapids. This led him to Grand Rapids Community College to polish his computer skills and eventually, to his ArtPrize entry.

“I walked around ArtPrize last year, but I didn't enter in anything because I thought it was for artists. You know people with famous names,” Raymond remarks with a laugh. He was surprised to find out that anyone could enter their work in a contest with so large a prize. A year later, on the recommendation of an art professor who said "Swans on the Lake" was good enough to be entered into ArtPrize, Raymond completed the painting and entered it. “The winner last year was a very large painting. No one notices the small paintings or even the ones with several small ones. I didn't even notice them as I walked through last year. So I wanted to do something big,” he says with a look of accomplishment. At 40x60 inches "Swans on the Lake" is a good sized painting.

 “For me, painting is something done quickly. It needs to be in the moment. If you wait too long to finish you may lose that feeling and then the painting will have a different feel to it.” Raymond tells us the acrylic painting took him a couple of hours to complete. You can see this in the quick closely packed brushstrokes, reminiscent of one of his major painting influences, VanGogh.  It is in the quick powerful strokes that Raymond sees their similarities. Indeed upon closer inspection one can see all the individual brushstrokes that come together to form "Swans on the Lake."

From a self diagnosed shy painter comes a beautifully realistic rendering of a scene that should be familiar to anyone who's been a resident of Michigan. “When people watch me work it is like I am a chicken and they are plucking my feathers and my confidence, leaving me all naked and unable to work,” Raymond says with a laugh. From the warm tones of the water to the majestic detail in the swans themselves, he delivers a painting of Michigan wildlife worthy of our attention at ArtPrize 2010.  Visitors can see "Swans on the Lake" at Spectrum Theatre on Grand Rapid's Community College's campus.  Grand Rapids CC Spectrum Theatre is located on 160 Fountain St NE, and Raymond's text voting number is 40571.





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Oh, this is so fantastic! Raymond is a Midtownie and such a great asset to the neighborhood. Thanks for this profile!