Featured Artist Q&A:
Go Big or Go Home
You might recognize our September Featured Artist from his epic dreadlocks or from your television set. Thomas Ramey, the sought-after sculpture/metalworking artist, and occasional reality television design star, works to create high-quality furniture and architectural projects, many of which can be found in upscale homes and galleries across the country. Despite his many successes, Ramey’s ego is nothing like his larger-than-life artwork. The artist is as down-to-earth as it gets – and perhaps, a little too humble.
This month, it’s time to get personal with the guy who loves to spark up a lathe (metal cutting machine), rock out on bass, and pound vanilla milkshakes.
1. Tell us the moment you first fell in love with sculpture art.
Playing with LEGOs as a kid started my love affair for 3D artwork! I remember going to sculpture gardens with my mom (she was a painter) and she’d sit out and sketch the pieces and nature around them. I was awestruck by them and thought it would be awesome to recreate them…out of LEGOs, of course.
Made in the USA (Photo courtesy of Thomas Ramey)
2. Your projects can be larger than life — you’ve crafted functional furniture pieces up to large-scale public art sculpture gardens. Personally, what’s your favorite scale to work in?
Up until I did the huge public art piece, I thought somewhere between 5’ and 8’ was a size I loved. Once I got to do something over the top, I was hooked. Now I want everything to be 30’ tall!
3. Being an artist hasn’t been your only calling. For a decade, you were a bassist for Acid Indigestion (great name, by the way), Cry of Justice, and Big MF Stick. Do you miss the rockstar lifestyle? How has being a musician influenced your career as a sculpture artist?
I would be lying through my teeth if I said I didn’t miss touring and playing music. I loved being on stage — the freedom of performing, cranking up an amp, and letting everything out. There’s no feeling like it. I started touring when I was 18 and by the time I was 21, I had friends in some of the biggest bands in the world. With music, I learned to be free, to be confident in myself. I learned a lot about people and how my art could interact with them. I learned how to take chances.
I think the biggest thing that I took from music to sculpture is that it’s ok to allow the process to guide itself. I have always felt that I’m not a master, just a portal for ideas. The process can lead you to a completely different, amazing direction if give it the freedom to breathe.
4. You pride yourself in bringing your client’s ideas into reality. What has been the most challenging project in your career? How were you able to overcome setbacks?
There will always be setbacks or unseen issues on any project. I have a philosophy: there are no mistakes, just different directions. Challenges sometimes are Nature’s way of telling you that something may not work the way you want it to. Don’t force it!
The first big chandelier I did. It was 10’ long by 2’ tall by 2’ wide. Didn’t sound like anything crazy…but, the clients wanted it to hang from a single 16’ long by 1” diameter pole! I was awake for a week straight, worried that it would hang crooked or break the pole or never be level. When I find myself in that kind of situation, I start to hear the old guys from the machine shop I used to apprentice at as a kid, “everything is just a series of steps. If you don’t know the steps, stop. Take a deep breath, relax, and work it out with pencil and paper.” It’s the reason I do 3D renderings today.
5. For a while, you were filming YouTube videos of your artwork in progress. Why was it important for you to document your creative process and share your inner thoughts to the public?
I think it’s kind of like storytelling. Humans have always shared things they care about, or enjoy, or feel passionate about. I documented the whole build of my first big public art project because I had friends and family who wanted to see what I was doing. Seeing is probably the best way to learn about something for most of us. If for no one else, I know it is for me!
THAT tricky chandelier, also known as Thomas’s “Moby Dick.” (Photo courtesy of Thomas Ramey)
6. Speaking of cameras, you have been featured on quite a few television shows, most recently on FYI’s Red Hot Design. How true to life are the reality TV shows? Could you share an interesting story from the set?
The only thing real about reality television is the fact that they work you to death! The networks have figured out how to manipulate people on a level that is almost inconceivable. If you’re unlucky enough to be on a show where you actually have to build or fabricate anything, you’ll work nonstop. On the FYI show, I was averaging 20 hour work days for three weeks. We tried to do a show about real design and fabrication, but networks want to churn out a bunch of fake drama. They don’t seem to understand that there are actually millions of viewers that would tune in to see real fabrication. We filmed tons of great working footage, but that all got tossed aside.
I did enjoy the first series I did with the Discovery Channel, Wingnuts. We traveled to a lot of great locations. One day we were filming in the desert in Arizona at an aviation salvage yard that was across the road from a military airfield that housed an unbelievable amount of “mothballed aircrafts.” Our camera guy was trying to get some footage of the military planes from the street and the next thing we know there are two military police trucks right on us. They ended up detaining us for about two hours while they ran background checks on us. There’s nothing quite like being held by the US military!
Then there was the time we spent the day at the Playboy mansion, but I don’t think you can print any of that!
Thomas working hard in his studio, Essentials in Steel. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Ramey)
7. How has moving to Sacramento impacted your style? Your mindset?
My family is from Southern California, but we moved to Indianapolis when I was very young because my dad got his dream job working for race teams with the Indy 500. I grew up between Indianapolis and Los Angeles and moved to Sacramento in 2011 after living in Los Angeles for 10 years.
My artistic style hasn’t changed, but moving here was a culture shock. In Los Angeles you can’t really afford to slow down, Sacramento has given me the chance to mellow out. I saw great potential in Sacramento five or six years ago. The changes I’ve seen just since 2011 have been huge. I’m proud to say I live in Sacramento.
When I do art shows in Miami or New York people ask me where I’m from and have no clue where Sacramento is! Before you know it, I’m talking about Sacramento like I’m the ambassador. I think I’ve boosted tourism for us for the last couple years!
8. Name three of your greatest guilty pleasures.
Oh man, that would have to be vanilla milkshakes, Twix candy bars, and Vanilla chai tea!
9. What are your plans for the rest of 2015?
Between September 12 and 13, I’ll be showing off my new studio space as part of the Sac Open Studio Tour. Then Oct. 8th to the 11th I’m showing pieces with a great gallery from the East Coast, The Long -Sharp Gallery, at the Silicon Valley Art Fair. I’ll be ending my year in Florida, showing off my sculpture work at the Scope Miami Art Fair during Art Basel.
Keep up with Thomas:
Sacramento365 Artist Profile
Interview by Sacramento365’s Content & Social Media Coordinator, Jamila B. Khan.