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Art & Art History
University of Mississippi

Q&A with BFA Painting student Ramsay Stayer

Introduce yourself. What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Ramsay Stayer from Hattiesburg, MS.

What attracted you to the University of Mississippi Department of Art & Art History?
To be honest I was all over the place when I was trying to decide what I would study in college. I went from marine biology to mathematics but landed on art. I think a lot of this decision had to do with the fact that the Art Department feeds into the individual rather than one overarching idea. I was drawn to this idea of one working unit, but each person has their own voice within it.

What type of artwork do you create?
I have found that abstract has been the type of artwork that I have been able to relate to and work with the most. There is freedom within an abstract painting to represent something specific in a nonspecific way. I find abstractness allows a way to display something deeply emotional through a loose construct.

What type of artist do you consider yourself?
An absorbent, abstract artist. I take in what is happening around me and turn it into something abstract on a surface.

What made you pick the area of concertation you’re currently studying?
Both my mom and my Mimi are painters, so I grew up with paintings covering the walls and constantly witnessing the act of painting. There is something nostalgic about the smell of oil paint that takes me back to sitting in my Mimi’s studio while she worked away at the canvas. Even though I paint completely differently than my mom and Mimi, I believe that they have both heavily influenced my choice to pursue a focus in painting.

I was also very intrigued by how Phillip Jackson can see something beyond the surface in my paintings that I am still learning how to understand. I wanted to continue intensive work under his supervision, which has progressed my paintings and how I see paintings immensely.

What artists or type of art inspires you?
Carrie Moyer, Mark Bradford, Terry Winters, and Anita Ford are all artists that have been heavily influential in how I create my studio practice. I am drawn to their use of colors and surface manipulation. Mark Bradford’s heavy surface manipulation has been the biggest inspiration for how I make my paintings with the physical layers he builds. I love how Carrie Moyer, Terry Winters, and Anita Ford use colors and patterns to make layers that give the painting immense depth on a flat surface.

Could you talk about your BFA Thesis?
For over a year now I have been interested in a location: what makes a place a place. My thesis stems from this idea, but in a more personal manner. As I thought more into this idea of location, I began to think about the places in my life that I long after for security. Everybody has places in their lives that are a way to escape for comfort and refuge. Ironically, these places can also be the place that births or triggers anxieties in life. My paintings communicate this conflict through the manipulation of the surface. The process in which I approach my paintings is by taking familiar materials and layering them onto a flat surface until nothing is recognizable to its origin. I take materials such as table placemats, fabric and paper napkins, tissue paper, newspaper, string, construction plastic, and other found objects in combination with acrylic and house paint to aid in this manipulation of the surface. The main idea is to create conflict in a secure place. The paintings communicate two sides of a conflict within one frame, but these two sides need each other to survive even though they are conflicting. I want the viewer to engage in each piece by finding an element or area in the painting that they think is winning the conflicting communication taking place.

How has the Department of Art & Art History fostered your growth as an artist?
The department has been able to aid my growth, as I have needed it as I have grown in the department. The fundamental classes, especially color theory, taught me how complex art can be, and that nothing in art is truly accidental. No one color is placed in the manner that is and where it is just because there is a lot of thought behind each area of a piece of art. Once I learned this, the department helped me figure out how to apply these fundamental lessons to my own art while combining my own abstract thoughts.

Which professors mentored/inspired you the most?
Both Phillip Jackson and Lauren Cardenas have been huge in helping me understand how and why I make my works the way they are. Lauren and Jackson are able to find what is working and what is not working in my prints and paintings, and they discuss this with me, allowing me to problem solve and figure things out without having to hold my hand through the process.

Jackson will come into my studio area and guide me through my works and reveal areas that are working that I had completely overlooked or didn’t give any thought to. He is able to look at a representational piece and an abstract piece and give advice targeted towards the individual to help progress their works. Jackson has pushed and guided me in ways that I will remember every time I approach a work of art.

After I took relief with Lauren, I knew I needed more time under her teaching. So I added an extra advanced class, so I could continue learning under her. Lauren profoundly approaches each print in a casual way that makes the environment in her classes both encouraging and challenging.

What was your favorite class during your years here? It can be non-art-related.
Calculus II. I love how straightforward it is, and the fact that you will get a definite answer. It was a good balance for me. I don’t think non-art people understand how logical and complex painting can be. I would get excited to go home and do my neat math homework after becoming brain dead trying to figure out how to make a painting read how I wanted it to.

Have you attended any conferences with your student organization?
Painting never got the opportunity to travel to any conference in my years here, but we were able to attend the Landscape Symposium that was held at the Ford Center.

Could you describe any good experiences here in the department?
Although my time here has been full of almost all good experiences there will always be times that made this time special. A lot of these moments happened during the studio hours when all the people in the class would be working on our projects and were able to bond and form relationships that would otherwise never have taken place.

One time good experience in particular that happened more recently was when I found out I had gotten an interview with one of the grad schools I applied to. Once I told Jackson, he yelled in excitement, and the rest of the department who knew were extremely encouraging and supportive of it all.

What does the Department of Art & Art History mean to you?
As cheesy as it sounds, I do feel like the Department of Art and Art History is a family unit. You begin to recognize most people in the building because you are constantly in Meek. The deeper you get into purely studio classes, the more you get to know the professors and the other art students in different areas. There is always someone you know and have begun to form some kind of relationship with as you walk through the hallways of the building.

What are your plans after graduation?
If the graduate school doesn’t pan out this time around, I will plan on moving to the beach where I have been offered a job and working there for a year. During that time I hope to build my portfolio and either reapply to graduate schools or find a job in the school system.

Is there any advice you would like to give to incoming art students?
Come in open-minded, willing to learn, and listen to your instructors. More likely than not when they give you advice about how to strengthen your work, they are right and can see your work in a non-personal way. Also try to go to as many Art Talks, museums, and gallery talks and receptions as you can.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I think it is beneficial for everyone to take at least one art class in their time at the University of Mississippi for several reasons. Everyone should have an understanding of the people around him or her. By taking a class outside of their area of study, they can learn an appreciation of how much time and mental energy is spent on one project, let alone several at once. Another reason is that I think it is beneficial to work both “sides” of the brain. When I am in a math class, alongside my studio art classes, I can see a difference in how I approach each piece more clear-headed.

Can we find you or your work on social media?
I have an Instagram account where I post my studio work: @rams_studio

What are you listening to right now?
Pinegrove, The Wood Brothers, LoNoom, The War and The Treaty, Whitney, and BøRNS

Are you binge-watching anything at the moment?
I just finished Bojack Horseman. Still haven’t fully processed that it was the last episode. The ending was emotional and uncomfortably real.

Favorite Oxford spot to hang out?
Lamar Park or one of the balconies on the square. The balconies are the best of both worlds: you’re outside but you get to people-watch from a distance.

Go-to restaurant in Oxford?
Rice and Spice, hands down.

What is your favorite time of year in Oxford?
It’s a toss-up between the spring and summer. There is activeness and crispness in the air during the spring that ignites and excites me. In the spring there is always something going on, and it feels amazing outside all the time. But the summers are amazing because I feel like you get to see Oxford in its truest form. It is slow and quaint. It is full of warm colors and families are actively about town with the lack of college students. If you want to truly get the best experience of Oxford, I think you should spend a summer here and discover the personality of the city that captivates so many people.

Has anything crazy happened during your years as an undergraduate student?
I had the opportunity to study abroad in the fall semester of my junior year in Florence, Italy. My friend and I took a trip to Salzburg and Vienna, Austria, and while we were in Salzburg we stayed in a hostel. On our way back to the hostel there were these people dressed in costumes that looked like giant, hairy demons with rattles on their backs and whips in their hands. They were blocking the doors and when we hesitated they walked up to us and began whipping at our legs. It was terrifying, and we ran past them. We found out later that this was a common thing to happen during Krampus (look it up, it’s wild), which we were not aware was happening. We laugh about it now, but at the moment it was terrifying.

Interviewer: Frank Estrada | Photographer: Olivia Whittington