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Much More Than Murals: The Art of Ram Rojas

Ram Rojas is known to many in Door County as a muralist – most notably as the creator of the murals at The Clearing and the recently removed panels at Nelson’s Shopping Center in Baileys Harbor – but he’s much more than an artist who paints on the largest scale. 

That’s one reason why Rojas is looking forward to working this winter in his new Ellison Bay studio, where he paints landscapes, portraits and religious/mythological images based on Hindu writings.

His personal work is available through the Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor, and, he said, murals are done through commissions and are rather conservative by nature. 

“They reflect what we know and need to know about the town,” he said. “They are more a community piece.”

Rojas, who is from Venezuela, started his formal art studies at the age of 14 at the National Academy of Arts in Caracas.

“I grew up as a child studying plein air, although we didn’t call it plein air – we just called it painting outside,” he said. “It was pretty common, and it was the way you learned. They took the class from the academy to a spot and made us paint.”

“Model A on the Road to Northport,” by Ram Rojas.

Rojas was invited to join other young artists to study at the Academy of Vedic Art in Los Angeles. He then became a regular painter for an international publishing company and eventually moved to Europe to study old masters, mostly in Florence. His publisher also sent him on a study tour of India. When he returned to the U.S., he studied at Barnstone Studios in Philadelphia and then moved to California.

Rojas came to Door County 33 years ago after the owner of the Peninsula Gallery in Ephraim asked him to paint nine popular Door County scenes – Wilson’s, Al Johnson’s, Horseshoe Bay Farms and the White Gull Inn, among others – for reproduction as inexpensive prints. He has a link to the collection, The Magic of Door County, on his website.

“I never owned the rights of reproduction,” he said. “I painted the pieces that he wanted, and he paid me for the right for reproduction, and I sold the originals.”

And with that, Rojas became a Door County resident.

“For 30 years, I have been painting the Midwest, and it has grown on me,” he said.

He likes to work with oil paints – the way he learned to paint during his classical training.

“The new studio will be very well ventilated and lit and peaceful – it faces the woods,” Rojas said. “Before that, I was painting in the cabin using water-based oils, which are fumes free, but it is a whole different process.”

He admits that the range of new painting materials can be confusing.

“I can’t keep up with the variety of paints,” he said. “Call me a dinosaur. When I see all these mediums, there is a device or medium or varnish to add to what you already do, and I just want to paint without all the distractions the market has created. They are options, but they are not necessary. The best paintings were done with a brush and pigments – it was the eye of the artist and the emotions he was able to put on the painting that made it worthwhile.”

A portrait of Jean Dean Olson, organ player for the Ephraim Moravian Church, by Ram Rojas.

Rojas describes his style as impressionistic or realistic or neo-realistic, and he paints across all of these styles, as shown in his painting of Jean Dean Olson, who played the organ at the Ephraim Moravian Church. 

“When she retired, the elders commissioned a portrait to honor her many years of service,” he said. “Every Sunday, I sat behind her, not expecting one day I’d paint her. For me it is so personal, as it represents my own life experience.”

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