Jackson Artist @RansburgArt Brings Color, Creativity To Capital City
Written by IMN on 6 Feb 2017
Written by Rachel James-Terry
With a wide, infectious smile, 28-year-old Justin Ransburg introduces himself as an artist who draws and paints.
Typically dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he conveys a vibe that is cool and eccentric. Many have glimpsed his vibrant and distinct work on a light box in downtown Jackson, a mural at Lucky Town Brewery and almost anything throughout the capital city that can be covered with his favorite mediums — acrylic and spray paint.
“I guess I was like the odd kid in class because I would always be drawing. But, I always got along with anyone I was around. I could fit in with other people but I was OK being alone,” Ransburg said.
The 2006 Callaway High School graduate first discovered his talents when his brother refused to create a picture for him.
“He basically told me to do it myself — like big brothers do,” Ransburg said. “So, after I finished, I gave it to him and he actually gave me a critique on it. That moment led me to finding friends in school that could draw, and keeping that passion going led me out of Mississippi and to college and to me pursuing a career in the arts.”
At Texas Southern, Ransburg majored in fine arts, intending to concentrate on graphic design, but the lack of a design program changed his focal point to painting.
“Initially, I had a lot of fun with it. I didn’t like it as much as graphic design, but I was determined to get better at it and kept going,” he said.
Like many inventive minds, the Jackson transplant had some trouble boxing his creativity, which presented an issue for his drawing professor, Harvey Johnson.
“I found that to be hilarious since I came from a city where the mayor’s name was Harvey Johnson, but I’m pretty sure they’re not related,” Ransburg quipped.
The personal touches he added to his assignments were to his professor’s chagrin.
“We did a still life, and I kind of got bored drawing the still life, so I decided to draw imaginary characters in the background. You could kind of feel his head shake when he saw it like: ‘Ughhh, Justin — follow instructions.’”
One day, much to the burgeoning artist’s dismay, his professor informed him his drawings were not art. “It threw me for a loop, and I was like: ‘What do you mean this isn’t art?’ I was thinking, ‘What have I been doing all my life if it isn’t art?’”
It was a friend who told Ransburg that his work did not have to fit into someone else’s idea of art. Uplifted, he persevered and graduated with his bachelor’s in 2012.
Upon his return to Jackson that same year, Ransburg began working in landscaping while posting craigslist ads for jobs that would allow him to indulge his artistic expression.
“I was a caricature artist for a Mississippi College of Law party, and it showed me that if I really wanted to do this I could do it. I just had to keep pushing,” he said.
When friend Kimberly Jacobs, former director of Jackson State University’s Gallery1, received a Roman Bearden Fellowship at the St. Louis Art Museum, she encouraged Ransburg to apply for her position.
“She was going to be gone for a year. So during that time she asked me if I wanted to work at the gallery while she was in St. Louis,” he said.
Ransburg successfully applied and became coordinator of JSU’s Gallery1 from 2013 to 2014.
“We knew Justin would be the perfect person. It’s hard to describe, it was an energy and an attitude and a complete knowingness. He was always trustworthy and patient,” Jacobs said.
She said Ransburg also is a “great artist” whose work had a message.
“He has a great imagination, which makes him a great visionary,” she said.
Once Jacobs returned, Ransburg began freelancing. He was gaining more notice for his creative blending of animation, illustration, imagery and mixed-media. His client list grew. He recalls his favorite commission as a mural he did for Taboo Dance & Aerial Fitness depicting the three owners as pole-dancing superheroes.
Ransburg said he was able to observe the classes for inspiration. “It’s interesting,” he said. “It’s a pole-dancing class, but at the same time, it teaches women to be confident in their bodies while they’re getting stronger because having to pull your own body weight is difficult.”
Another example of Ransburg’s work can be found at DellaBee’s Restaurant inside the Jackson Medical Mall. The restaurant is named after the owner’s two grandmothers — Della and Bee, he says. “She asked me to make a woman with a bumble bee body holding a rolling pin.”
Although Ransburg has no problem using a traditional canvas, he enjoys turning ordinary things into extraordinary pieces like the light box on the corner of Mill and Capitol streets next to the old King Edward Hotel — now home to the Hilton Garden Inn.
After submitting a design, Ransburg was selected to customize the light box through a program sponsored by the Greater Jackson Arts Council.
“I wanted to use spray paint for the whole project, but unless you have stencils and other tools you can control the medium with then it’s difficult to do details. I had to switch up my idea a little bit but still make sure it kept with the theme of Mississippi musicians,” he said.
The meter protruding from his canvas presented a slight issue, but the artist improvised and incorporated the meter into his work. “It turned out way better than I was expecting,” Ransburg said.
When the guys at Lucky Town Brewery were looking for someone to liven up a bare wall outside their business, a friend referred Ransburg. “Reuben contacted me through Facebook and told me what they were trying to do, and it was definitely something I was down to do,” Ransburg said.
After discussing the vision with Reuben Antelink, tour director, and Lucas Simmons, head brewer of Lucky Town, the men came up with an idea of having characters from the ’80s, ’90s, ‘2000s pop-culture era scattered throughout the building. Ransburg said, “So, I added a party scene with people from Jackson enjoying the beer from Lucky Town.”
Antvelink said they chose Ransburg because he was local and because the artist loves art like “we at Lucky Town love our beer.”
“In his art, he adds not only the flair of his personality but he takes time to get to know the people he’s doing the art for and he puts them into his paintings,” said Antvelink. “We really love what Justin has done so far for us, and we are hoping in the future you will see many collaborations between Justin and us.”
Although Ransburg savors his craft, he also enjoys sharing his knowledge with others. He spent last summer helping students at Jackson State University’s Kids Kollege create a mural that displays on a wall in their hallway.
He also worked with the Parents for Jackson Public Schools and its program called “Ask for More Art.”
“I taught the students at Lanier how to do a mural based on the theme of community. It’s hanging on the ninth-grade wall at Lanier High school,” he said.
Giving back to people in his hometown “feels really good,” Ransburg said. “It lets me know that I’m doing something worthwhile and that people can look to it for inspiration because I’m not just making pretty pictures. I’m doing something that makes a difference.”