Influenced from early childhood by the natural forms around him, John Rampley interprets nature in his paintings, often incorporating handcrafted, exotic wood edges into his frames. Self taught, his use of imagery presents a highly personal view of nature that continues to evolve with consecutive working environments and with experimentation and research.
As a young child, Rampley grew up on his Finnish grandparents' farm in the San Joaquin
John Rampley (l) with artist Gilbert Fulton
Valley, California,where he learned to speak Finnish as a second language. His father was a WWII prisoner of war while his mother worked away from the farm to help support her two young sons. Surrounded by a Finnish farming community with its many fascinating forms of nature, John also spent time with his grandfather who was a master carver and violin-maker in his studio. This would later inform how he created special handcrafted wood edges and framing devices for his own paintings.
After relocating to San Francisco in 1942, John did a stint in the U.S. Air Force which was followed by travels to Mexico in 1960-61. Upon returning to San Francisco in 1961 he rented an art studio space in the historic Fillmore District’s Primalon Ballroom. In the 50s the Primalon had been part of a jazz legacy, hosting greats such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald who performed in neighboring clubs. The area was known as "The Harlem of the West." By the 60s, new cultural energies were fomenting. A heady movement spearheaded by the Beat poets and sixties rock musicians stormed the city. John's abstract Mendocino tree embankment paintings - complete with twisting roots - came alive with movement, paralleling a historic moment in Bay Area arts.
A pivotal opportunity arose for Rampley in the early 70s that was to last throughout the decade: a mural collaboration with fellow artist John Wehrle. With the founding of CETA, a federally-funded San Francisco Neighborhood Arts Program derived from the 30s WPA Project, Rampley was able to experiment with the concept of expanding a painting beyond it's boundaries. To take painting out into the environment instead of isolating it. To have it occupy the environment. "Imaginary Landscape" (16' x 48,' oil on masonite panels, 1975) was the first successful collaboration between Rampley and Wehrle to move art-making out of the studio and into the public space.
Inspired by the WPA's philosophy to be of service to the community in the urban environment, the collaborative team then incorporated their own personal philosophy about bringing a close relationship between nature and wildlife into this same public space. In 1976 Rampley ad Wehrle painted their most famous mural, "Positively Fourth Street" (16' x 60,' oil on masonite panels). With funding from the De Young Museum, San Francisco, it became a model for similar programs nationally. Promoted by the Wall Street Journal Travel section, Greyhound bus sightseeing tours were bringing hundreds of spectators to Golden Gate Park to view the mural throughout its production. Tourists were enthralled with the vision of wild animals invading and overrunning a city freeway.
Rampley painted his own mural "African Savannah" (12' x 60,' oil on concrete), during 1978-80 for the San Francisco Zoo with Kilimanjaro in the background and an African elephant in the foreground. The main idea was to get the wall of the zoo grotto to disappear, to create an illusionistic connection with the natural flora depicted in the the painting with the actual trees growing immediately behind the grotto. The mural also attempted to make a connection with other animals like small deer that occupied the elephant grotto.
By the mid 80s Rampley was hired by the San Francisco Aquarium, then located in Golden Gate Park, as a full time employee to restore its animal habitats and murals. Even while working full time he had the stunning opportunity to use what he learned there in his own painting research. During an 18-year period Rampley was in charge of the swamp mural restorations and fish and snake tank habitats. He worked on the Pacific Northwest Octopus Educational Project collaborating closely with marine biologists. Continuing to work with marine biologists, he restored and repaired the Coral Reef and Penguin Displays, re-envisioning them for a more contemporary audience. The aquarium experience brought all his propensities for the visual together best: Working with the natural forms of nature, emphasizing a close relationship between nature and wildlife, and making walls disappear.
With the destruction of the old Golden Gate Aquarium building, John was able to save countless bones, taxidermy specimens and other marine artifacts from their demise - still life objects he now uses in exciting new ways. He's come full circle from making public walls disappear to back into the studio. His current work is an emblematic homage to his Finnish grandfather's woodworking studio. Hand-crafted painting edges and framing devices are now being designed to allow imagery to expand beyond the pictorial format in new ways. Decades of experimentation and research are taking John's profoundly personal view of nature and wildlife into new realms of the spirit.
“John Rampley digs deep into his source material, emphasizing the abstract shapes that construct a realisitc image. Using glazes to create luminous landscapes that border on the visionary, John captures the atmosphere of fog-laced redwoods or the hidden details in a birch tree bark.”