retires to get work done
...A Bach piano piece played in the background as Florida A&M University professor, painter, artist and bon vivant Ron Yrabedra meticulously applied a fine glaze to a ceramic pot he was finishing in his studio at Railroad Square Art Park.
"I don't like to waste time," Yrabedra
"I don't know how I'm going to give up teaching," Yrabedra
said."People say, 'Aren't you thrilled?' But I'm not.I'm not sure how I'm going to define myself.I'm sure there's a way.I'll just have to find it."
is presenting a one-man exhibit of his
work titled "A Gilded Retrospective" opening Feb. 1 at the Foster Tanner Fine Arts Gallery
.The "Gilded" reference is intentional because Yrabedra
is known for his
gold-leaf-lined paintings of palm trees and bulls, both recurring symbols in his
lifetime of work.The paintings are included in many private and public collections around the country.
"When I began using gold leaf (in the early '80s) I didn't know what I was doing, I had to discover my own method," he
said."I had about $60 worth of gold leaf stuck to my hands.And $60 was a lot of money back then."
The $60 investment paid off.Yrabedra is a commercially successful artist whose large canvases sell for $5,000 and more.
"My friend (and Florida State art professor) Janice Hartwell turned to me one day and said, 'Ron, you're lucky because everything you make sells.' And I said, 'I thought that was the point.I thought that was the way you were supposed to do it.' I've sold everything I've made.But selling meant I could go buy more materials to keep making my art."Yrabedra
, which is a Spanish name pronounced "ear-uh-bed-drah" , grew up in Mobile, Ala., as a studious and devout kid attending the Church of Christ
"They always gave me church programs to draw on during the sermon," he
said."I always drew in church.It's where all my best ideas came from."
Growing up, Yrabedra
was a history buff and did not turn to painting and ceramics until he
got into college.Yrabedra
arrived at the University of Alabama just as the turbulent '60s were taking hold.The civil-rights movement was in full bloom and the art schools were teaching students that painting was dead.
"I was an abstract expressionist.Willem de Kooning was my hero," Yrabedra
"I was really having an existential crisis about what I should do with my art.All my friends were conceptual artists who studied with Vitto Acconci and others like him.They believed the world doesn't need another object, another painting.I was really wondering what I should do with my art."His
philosophical quandary ended abruptly when Yrabedra
was in graduate school and landed a job teaching art to children in rural Alabama.Reality cleared up a lot of things.
"The New York School
(of painting) didn't mean anything in Tuscaloosa County," Yrabedra
Earlier this month, Yrabedra
sent a disc containing images of his
palm paintings with a friend who was visiting the wealthy nation of Dubai in the Persian Gulf.
"I was watching a TV program about Dubai on TV, and they just built islands in the shape of palm trees," he
"The bull has been used in art starting with Greeks and up to Picasso," Yrabedra
said."The bull signifies the impulse of disorder."
While Yrabedra jokes that there's "been plenty of disorder" in his
personal life, he's
well known for his
punctuality and regimented approach to everything.His
classes always start precisely on time.For nearly 30 years, he
ate lunch at Chez Pierre at exactly 11 a.m. each day.He
now does the same thing at Sage
(which was started by the original owners of Chez Pierre).
"I was always afraid that's what I'd be remembered for that (eating daily at Chez Pierre), not my art," Yrabedra
For many years, Yrabedra
organized rotating art shows at Chez Pierre for Tallahassee painters.
"I think more people saw the art at Chez Pierre than at many of the galleries in town," Yrabedra
said."I made people develop a body of work before I hung a show.I gave a lot of artists their first shows."During the early and mid-'80s, Yrabedra worked as the art director for the FAMU gallery and The LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts.
At LeMoyne, he
organized Schubertiad concerts and readings of works by William Faulkner.
"It was like an Andy Hardy movie," Yrabedra
said."I'd think up an idea, and there were people there who would make it happen.I had a great time at LeMoyne."
also is known for throwing elaborate birthday bashes (his 50th had a "Gone With the Wind" theme and was held at a plantation in Georgia, his
60th had a Titanic motif), he's
serious when it comes to his
"I taught James Ammons," Yrabedra
, who said he
plans to keep teaching art workshops and painting after his
official retirement from FAMU
, put the finishing touches on his
ceramic vase and put away his
"It just seems like a breath of time since I started teaching," he
visits with his great-niece and great-nephew, Averie and Haley Yrabedra, in Mobile, Ala., where the artist was raised.