Jeremiah, Victoria, Johanna, Gloria and Julian Raven
After 13 years in the custom woodworking and cabinetry field, I came to the place where life's circumstances and needs positioned me for the artistic flood gates within me to burst. But, could I paint after all these years? Was I an artist after all? Was it too late to paint? Could I still succeed as an artist? Could I finally make a living as an artist? Will my family have to go through an extended period of hardship? I always thought I had to die before I could succeed as an artist. As the creative flood was building, so was the flood of doubts. But now for the first time, I was able to under gird my art with my faith.
Now I believe! Now I have the faith that being an artist is my greatest, most valuable and most individualistic gift. This is my fingerprint that alone is mine. My individuality, all that I have become, all that I have learned, all of the incredible experiences both natural and mystical, all of my sufferings, hardships and trials, all of the areas in which I have grown, developed and matured, will now find their voice, my voice, in my art.
My name is Julian Raven.
Custom Library, Nyack, New York. Designed, Finished and Installed by Julian Raven
Self Portrait, Oil on Canvas, 13x18" 1989
My Art History
Since I can remember, art was always a part of my life. The gift has come down to me from my grandfather on my mother’s side. My grandfather was an engineer by profession and yet by night, he went to art school and painted wall art. I never saw his work, but my mother’s account, he was a man who was in love with art. He buried himself in art books, going to museums as he constantly studied painting for hours. However, he never fully lived as an artist or made his living as an artist. I never met my grandfather, but I know his ways live within me.
My mother many times told me of how he could see the intense beauty in the trunks of trees. He would stop and describe the colors and textures than no one else seemed to notice. I know I see like that. Mysteriously, this seeing is part of my life now. His father was also a creative person in the London theaters of the late 1800’s. On my father’s side, the entrepreneurial spirit has been passed on. He was a Jewish businessman, and a hard working property-developer who sadly died at the young age of 54.
I was 10 at the time, living in Faro on the Algarve in Portugal. Whilst my father made plans to move to Hong Kong, we (my mother and brothers) lived in Portugal with my uncle. My mother’s brother (my uncle) studied to be an architect. The engineering/technical side of this artistic gift was passed on to my uncle.
So, as I grew up, my inclination towards the visual arts was evident. I can remember being very interested in painting and drawing, and winning school art competitions. After the death of my father at the age of ten, our lives went into a survival mode. My mother began to tread water to keep our family together and to keep us kids in school back in Marbella, Spain. Those years were empty as far as artistic memories go. I spent those years very confused and angry at the death of my father. I wondered about life and death and I began to ask and seek answers to the big questions about life. Thus began my quest for truth and the spiritual voyage that would develop and dominate my life for years to come.
It was later in my teens that I began to create again, when my math teacher, Dr. Mike Sutcliffe, at the English International College, in Marbella, Spain (who also was a guitarist) saw me doodling. He set a squashed coke can before me and said, "Draw!". After my effort, he encouraged me back into the arts. His encouragement led me to meet Mr. David Bodlak, an art professor from California. Mr. Bodlak would begin to mentor me in my artistic gift. He became the biggest influence in my life up until that time. His enormous capacity to encourage even the most feeble artistic efforts was always inspiring. His attitude, his love for classical flamenco guitar music, and his creativity and passion were contagious. While in Spain, he lived vicariously through the hot-blooded veins of Spanish bullfighters. His art, (See link below) reflected this. He loved his students. He had a particular appearance: leather waist coat, beard, slick parted hair, glasses, coffee breath, some sort of short cigars held in a brown plastic holder, and a deep and deliberate voice. By these qualities I shall always remember him.
During this season of discovery, I painted, I drew, and I experimented in all manner of mediums. I was always curious and always experimenting. Although I loved traditional methods, I found that the 'experimental abstract' and 'expressive' suited my entrepreneurial and discovery-seeking nature.
I passed my British ‘O’ levels, which were the US high school equivalent, with average grades. I passed the ‘A’ levels, which were the pre-college level, by the skin of my teeth. I was never a great student, I was always too distracted with other pursuits, lacked discipline, and was a terrible procrastinator. Upon passing these grades, I took a year off since I had completed school early. The following year, I began to apply to art colleges in London. Being somewhat convinced of myself as an artist, I only wanted to apply to the best school in London. I chose the Chelsea School of Art and Design. I failed to get accepted on my first interview, but with my mother’s persuasive efforts, she managed to get me another interview. I made it through onto the second year of the B-Tech National diploma. This was to prepare me for the three year Bachelor of Arts program.
Art school was a bitter sweet experience for me. I started with a month’s long figure-drawing program during the summer of 1988. This was to get me up to speed in figure drawing. The Chelsea School of Art and Design was like a playground for me. The facilities were incredible, as were the painting, printing and drawing studios. No only was there was an excellent library, but photography, sculpture, metal working and wood working shops (and don't forget the canteen!). I had come from the relatively small coastal town of Marbella, in Southern Spain. The art room there was very simple compared to the multiple site locations and facilities that Chelsea offered. I would find myself exploring the various rooms during lunch breaks, always learning some new technique. This was the sweet part of the experience.
Life in London though, was lonely and grey. Having grown up in the warm, vibrant and sunny Marbella in Andalusia, Spain, London was very tough for me. The difficulty of of being away from my family was compounded by the perpetual grey, the rain and coldness of many London folk. This was depressing! I had been on a pursuit for existential answers since I could remember. I continued to ask the big questions about life. Even though I lived in the vicarage of the Anglican church in Earls’s Court, I still came up empty. The hard-core Anglicans with which I lived were racists and this deeply saddened me. The dark unlit corridors in my mind, combined with the grey sky of rainy London’s average day, drove me ever deeper into sadness and depression.
In Spain, I had been instructed by Mr. David Bodlak, as mentioned earlier, he was like the warm sun shining. The contrast between his nature to encourage me whenever he could was now being eaten away by some of the grey teachers in London. I can remember one man in particular. He was very skinny, his shoulder bones would protrude from underneath his scrawny brown 'v' neck sweater. His complexion was pale, gaunt and with brown curly hair and dark bushy eyebrows. He was always smoking cigarettes and criticizing. He would hover over my shoulder like a vulture, like a spectre breathing down my neck, just looking for something to chew on. No life, no smiles, no warmth ever issued forth from him. His cold harsh instruction felt more like punishment than art. All he knew was how to tear down, leaving his hopeless victims on the ground along with their figuratively shredded art work. The creative in me was being eaten up by this type of negativity. At that formative stage in my life, it felt like the baby green leaves that had sprouted were beginning to wither and die.
The direction of the school student body seemed to be in opposition to me. I found myself at odds with the students as they would always protest about something political, go on marches and picket at their own school. I would turn up to learn to paint and wanted no part in the demonstrations, since I neither understood them nor was interested in them. I came to London to learn how to paint and draw! I was labeled a 'scab'. I can remember walking into the building through a crowd of students who were jeering and hollering at me. The school was empty except for a girl named, Cobadonga from Spain, and a few others who chose to paint rather than protest.
I had a couple of failed romantic efforts during that time which backfired painfully along with what seemed to be the darkest of experiences. On my return to Spain for the 1988 Christmas vacation I experienced a life changing event. It was Christmas eve 1988. At midnight my mother invited my brothers and I to come with her to church to support her as she was a widow and going by herself. We obliged as we strengthened ourselves with a few rum and cokes. Well lubricated for the party that night, we attended this Spanish Catholic Church. The church was full, with probably 400 to 500 Spaniards, and a handful of foreigners. The priest walked up to our group of about 6 guys and gals and my mother and asked if one of us would read out-loud from the Bible in English. For some reason, they all turned and pointed at me. The priest put his hand on me and gave me a Bible indicating the passage I was to read. I was an atheist!
After reading the Bible in the church that night, we went off to our midnight watering hole. Later that night, a large fight broke out and the police were involved. I was involved in the scuffle and the police dragged the offending parties away. Later that morning at about 6 a.m. the police returned. Without reason I was escorted to the police car and they began to beat me. I was beaten while in the car and at the police station. I would later find out that another fair-haired foreign guy had jumped on the police during the scuffle in the bar earlier that night. They had come back for him and settled for me, since I was fair-haired and foreign!
The next morning I remember waking up mad, very mad. I felt so violated, so impotent and so frustrated. Some of the first words off my lips were; ‘..There is no God!...’ I reasoned that since I had performed some service for God (if He existed at all) that hellish experience should never have happened to me... Well that Christmas was the beginning of a very long four year downward spiral into ever deeper darkness.
I returned to London in the new year. On the outside, I thought my deep sadness did not show. I always had a confident and positive attitude towards life, but on the inside, I was a drowning and a hopeless man. During that time I worked on a self portrait that unintentionally revealed my inner turmoil, fears, darkness and emptiness. My return to London only lasted a couple of months. The unhappiness took its toll and I could no longer keep my head above water. I had to leave.
I said to myself that I did not need the grey and grief from Chelsea and its professors, since I could learn to paint by myself. I pictured myself living in some ancient and quaint whitewashed hillside village in Southern Spain, where time stood still. There the bright yellow, splintered Spanish sun shone in all of its year-round brilliance. Its warmth and brightness penetrating my face and chest. I envisioned myself sitting on the door step of my old-world, stone-built art studio. I did not need Chelsea after all, nor was I ready for it as it turned out. So I packed my bags and left….I was gone…I was free to seek and search...
That was in 1989. That year, my family and I would open a disco/rock bar to make money and also to keep me well-lubricated and numbed as my life spiraled into deeper darkness. The darkness eclipsed my energy and creativity as an artist. Except now, I used my entrepreneurial and three-dimensional gifts as a business owner, builder and carpenter.
Nearly four years later, in late-summer and through October 1992, that I was at the end of my rope, even suicidal! It was at that time that I had a visitation. Not just a visitation but a revelation that would change and save my life.
God revealed Himself to me as the Designer and Creator of the Universe while contemplating the big questions of life and an acorn on a mountain in Southern Spain! My life was saved! My life’s direction changed radically from darkness to light. This new and living faith became my life’s pursuit. Art became a means to an end as I tried to survive. I left my life in Marbella where my family lived and ventured onto the missionary field.
It was there that I tried to pay my way by selling my art on the streets. My immaturity and marketing ignorance, coupled with my stubbornness, and refusing to compromise my art, made my artistic ventures very unsuccessful and discouraging. I would sit on the sea front promenade where tourists would pass by as if I was invisible. Fewer even noticed my art work. And as for sales, not one!
The Blue Self Portrait.
I painted this self-portrait on the missionary field. It was meant to express the passing of my blues. Now that the fire of Life and faith burned within me. It was the last formal painting I painted for many years. That was back in 1995, some 18 years ago. Most of my former work was lost in Spain.
During that time, I pursued my calling as a lay minister, as the burden to love my fellow man consumed me. I had to tell people what had happened to me, I had to find people who would listen. A few years later I ended up in the US. I spent a season at a seminary in Nyack, New York and served in many different capacities in local churches. I have studied Theology and Philosophy and many other aspects of my faith. It was also in Nyack, New York where I met my future wife Gloria and where we had our 3 children. We also opened our first business together, Raven's Custom Creations, Inc. It was this business vision that that would incorporate my artistic skills in decoratively painting furniture as well as restoring, designing and building fine wooden cabinetry. I still do this work which can be seen at http://www.jmrwoodworking.com.