Jealousy! I had to fight it off as I flipped through one of R.J. Ogemah’s many sketchbooks. R.J. is 24. Some of his sketchbooks and a few paintings are from his teenage years! Fortunately I was able to laugh at my own insecurity and left his place with an invigorated resolve to do better work. I have R.J. to thank for my next illustration, which turned out phenomenally better than my last few mediocre scratches. I have Louise Thomas to thank for the introduction.
Although R. J. Ogemah’s subject matter is not for everyone, it’s pretty obvious from the few painted works and the many portrait and nude drawings that he can draw as any classical or popular artist would. With such versatility he is able to mimic one of his favourite comic book artists, the famous French fantasy artist Moebius, featured prominently in Heavy Metal magazine.
Computer games, comics, and graphic novels played a big role in finding sources of inspiration so although R.J. enjoys realism he is drawn to more imaginative artists. When asked about his influences he begins, “There weren’t any creative people around me when I was growing up.”
R.J. grew up in Long Lake # 58 First Nation, so it was the Internet that gave him access to classical art imagery and modern hard edge realism. “I was thirteen when I saw photo realism and I was interested in learning how to do that. I always had an interest in the old masters. It’s something I always wanted to learn since I was a little kid. I trained on my own, studying imagery on the Internet, taking it seriously when I was 18.”
When asked if his Ojibway roots will play a role in his art he states, “I grew up pretty detached from my own culture. I never felt like I really belonged.” However, he says that at some point in the future he will. “I think it’s pretty important to explore that, learn about my heritage and history.”
Right now he’s developing a body of work, exploring his options. He’s done work for a portfolio and developing a style, a style which has its roots in Italy, for a show he hopes to have in October next year at the Anishnaabe Gallery.
Last week he flew to Montreal to begin a new adventure working for the fabulous company, Mosaika. Worth a look: www.mosaika.com. It’s likely R.J. will be sent to other cities to work on large scale mosaics, so he’ll get a great paid education in major creative endeavors.
Kori Smyth, who grew up in Fort William, is the owner of Mosaika. She met with R. J. in Florence, Italy while R.J. studied the techniques of the old masters. Louise Thomas, a friend of Smyth’s, arranged the meeting. The Ontario Arts Council’s Career Access and Development Grant funded the trip. R. J. was in Florence from May to August this year, returning to Thunder Bay with a couple paintings from his classes and a new resolve to create work for a show.
R.J. had studied realism at the Toronto Academy of Realist Art for 8 months. He wasn’t a fan. “I learnt stuff I pretty much already knew.” The school taught observational drawing where students copied exactly what they saw. R.J. was disappointed that they didn’t teach anatomy or perspective. “I was looking for a foundation, basic knowledge, but they offered a formula.”
“There was a lot of drama in the school. And there were a lot of hobbyists. There was a group who was really talented and serious, but they went off and did their own thing.” He laughs, and describes how he left the program. “It was stupid. I just gave up after a while and did my own thing for a few years. I was afraid of going to Florence because I thought it was going to be like Toronto again.”
“It wasn’t until much later that I met Louise and she really supported me when I was growing up.” He showed his work at Louise’s gallery and sold a few pieces. And although he might get diverted in his career, he has plans to show new work at the Anishnaabe gallery next year.
R.J. laughs when he describes himself as wanting to be something like a wizard. “I’m after more of a visceral action. I want people to see my work and say, ‘What the hell is that!? It’s a good aim, similar to creating awe. I want to capture the feeling I got when reading ghost stories. The first time I saw Hellraiser I felt this sense of wonder…. It’s definitely going to be horror related, but I want it to be more introspective, like traveling to different dimension…. I want to be like a merchant, to record my experiences as objects and sell them…. I have a belief that all meaning is imaginary and the more active your imagination is the more meaning there is in the world.”So, for next year he’s planning an exhibition of an imaginative series, beginning with a trilogy to explore his wonder and his morbid curiosity in human nature with extremely realistic and detailed work, in a style that he began working on in Italy. Stay tuned.