An Interview with Ronnie Dukes

Ronnie Dukes is a local painter, illustrator, designer, and the latest artist to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL.  His show – titled Vitruvian Hero: Act I – was on display at EPL’s Main Branch throughout April and inspired by Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man drawing.  The first of a planned three-part series, the collection explores the possibilities of “super” human evolution using elements of sci-fi and fantasy in the striking style of comic-book illustrations.  If you missed it, however, don’t fret.  You can view more of Mr. Dukes’ work by visiting his website, and he recently spoke with us via email about his artistic beginnings at Maggie Daley’s Gallery 37 and in Harlem, his creative process, and his vision for his forthcoming graphic novel.

Evanston Public Library:  Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist?  How did you get started in art?  Was there something specific in your life that sparked a need to create?  What drove you in the beginning?  What drives you now?

Ronnie Dukes:  I grew up with a passion for drawing.  I vividly remember laying on the floor of the YMCA offices drawing all night while my grandmother worked or the day I discovered how to draw necks.  My parents have always been very encouraging of my art and enrolled me in neighborhood arts programs in South Shore and in Maggie Daley’s Gallery 37.  That was back when it was an outdoor, summer-only program on block 37.  I went on to get my degree in computer animation but was then immediately inspired to paint.  I have not animated anything but have had about 13 exhibits of my paintings over the past 11 years.  I lived in Manhattan, Harlem specifically, and was immensely inspired and painted constantly.  One day while selling my work on the street, one of my patrons happened to be an administrator at Columbia University and invited me to have my first solo exhibition.  I have always been hooked on creating and able to find inspiration.  I’m now at the point where I want to create large collections of work and tell a story with my art that can stand the test of time.

EPL:  How do you describe your art?  Do you see yourself as fitting in with any particular artistic movements or styles?  Do you work in any other mediums?

RD:  I have experimented a lot and have always come back to a style that is very illustrative.  I mainly use paint, Graphite, and pen and ink.  As I mature as an artist and a person, it is a style that grows with me.  Who’s to say where we’ll end up, but I like the direction we’re going so far.

EPL:  Can you give us a window into your creative process for “Vitruvian Hero: Act I?”

RD:  This work evolved from doing lots of character and anatomy studies in preparation for production on my graphic novel.  I filled up a couple of Moleskins and a sketch book with sketches.  I felt like it would have been a shame to have that work just live “on the shelf” so that’s where the idea of this series and collection stemmed from.  This show is an experiment for me.  It’s the first time I’ve ever used a quill pen and the work is on a handmade paper from Nepal.  It’s also the first time I have focused on purely illustration and stuck so closely to a theme.  I have found Leonardo Da Vinci to be the perfect inspiration for me as an artist which is why this series is inspired by the Vitruvian Man.  He was an artist and engineer, and while I am not an engineer, I admire them greatly as they hold a major key to the future.  I hope to use my art and storytelling going forward to inspire the pursuit of engineering.

EPL:  What are your future goals and plans as an artist?  Can you tell us about your vision for “Vitruvian Hero: Acts II and III?”  How is your graphic novel coming along?

RD:  In working on my graphic novel, I have been immersed in effective storytelling and the structure of a story.  That was one of my main influences for the structure for this collection.  Acts II and III will develop in a way very similar to how a movie or play comes together.  Most importantly, the work will become bigger and bolder and the visual drama will swell.  It’s been a great process which really gets me geared up for the graphic novel which is in production now.  It’s a lot of hard work since I’m doing it all myself as far as writing, pencils, ink and color for about 200 pages, but I see it as a way to really make my mark in the industry my first time out.

EPL:  How do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area as a place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?

RD:  I love Evanston as a place to live and work as an artist.  Growing up in South Shore, I have developed such a love for living near the lake and now in my adult life I get to appreciate our metro from a different perspective.  I am very inspired by Evanston and more inspired by creating something that will inspire kids to create and have the confidence to have a different vision of the world.  I have a lot of hometown pride and love to see artists who represent us in a great way.  I would love to join the ranks of those who make us proud to be Evanstonians and Chicagoans.

Interview by Russell J.

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