John Rivera-Resto is a self-taught artist. That is, he learned how to paint on his own. This does not mean that he is an uneducated artist. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He has attended five colleges and universities, had two years of theological seminary, and has completed several workshops and internship programs in business, education, communication, theatre, creative writing, filmmaking, architectural drawing and, of course, art. He has travelled extensively and reads everything and anything in several languages (assisted by his always-nearby dictionary); the library is his second home.
Today, John is considered a master of many painting styles and one of the best mural artists in the Americas. In between commissions, he teaches and lectures about art. After gaining international exposure with the establishment this educational website, Muralmaster (est. 2003), he accepts invitations to work and lecture abroad. However, becoming a professional artist was not what he wanted to do in life. This actually happened by chance.
Before doing his first commission at age sixteen, which he did in order to win a bet with his father (see 'the Artist' page link for details), his only connection with painting were books. His bedtime companion was Giorgio Vasari's "Lives of The Painters, Sculptors and Architects" -and the biographies and technical books of any artist he could lay his hands on! John states that he never had any aspirations to become a painter; his dreams were in the theatre. But he found artist's lives fascinating and was intrigued about the manner in which masterpieces where created and the times that inspired them. His curiosity however was not just limited to the arts. He has a voracious appetite for a wide variety of subjects ranging from cooking to geometry; from archaeology to military strategy.
Within the artistic realm, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are his early idols. As a child he used to spend hours going over their paintings with a magnifying glass figuring out how they were able to do them. But it never occurred to him that he could do it too. Being a painter was not on his agenda. It was his belief that artists lived by faith and that he never had much of it (actually, he still believes it!). Furthermore, doing theatre was more fun and he loved acting.
After completing his first mural painting in one of the largest temples in the island of Puerto Rico, he became an overnight sensation. There was no shortage of commissions and he also became the lead artist in the Las Piedras schools beautification program (1974-1976). Painting was a great 'part-time' source of income while he attended school. But the theatre was still his main focus. So while completing high school, painting for the schools during the afternoons, studying evenings in a religious seminary, and doing private commissions during weekends, he also prepared for a theatre competition sponsored by the Ministry of Education. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity; the winner had a shot at Julliard school in New York.
And so, John wrote a one-act, cast his friends in it, played the lead, directed the piece, choreographed a sword-fighting sequence, and won. But he had three things going against him. First, he couldn't speak English; second, he was only sixteen (a minor); third, his church did not permit "godless" theatre. Not knowing where to turn (the noble profession of accounting was hinted at him more than once), John decide to take the easy way and in the summer of 1977 he moved to Cleveland, Ohio (his birthplace), to study art... at least until something better came along.
He attended Cooper School of Art for a year (Cooper was one of the top-ten commercial art school in the United States). His first assignment was 'to draw a headache'. This was a bad sign (to read more about this episode, go to the 'current works' page, then click: "2007 -The Wolstein Château Wine Room Murals", and scroll down to "Professor Rivera-Resto"). John soon discovered that aesthetics and art philosophy far exceeded art theory and practice. The texts used were dull and sometimes completely devoided of meaning. What he wanted to learn were the skills of the trade much like the masters of old he so admired; the aesthetics he could learn later.
To his great disappointment, this was a far cry from the traditional methods of art instruction he had been eagerly anticipating. But he made the best of it and used his time wisely. That year he learned how to speak English (with the assistance of a British tutor) and more than he cared to know about football and rock-n-roll. The following year, he transferred to the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Art.
Things turned for the worst. At the Institute, to his great disapointment, he had to repeat many of the same classes he had taken at Cooper (the same ones he had also taken at the University of Puerto Rico!). Again, he was taught more aesthetics -but not much painting, and he starved to pay for tuition and books while working nights as a welder. Then, at the end of the year when it was time to declare a choice of study, he applied for the painting program (studio arts), and out of all the applicants, he was the only one rejected (he was also the only one that did not submit abstract art).
All his friends were shocked; he was devastated -for a day or two. Rather than try again to enter the painting program during the following term, he decided to quit art school. The high fees and the Institute's weak concentration on painting made it easier. And besides, he had other interests in mind, places to go, and paintings to do to pay for it. The next week, he got an offer to paint murals in a villa south of the border. Adventure called. This opened the world to a completely new phase in his life and his evergrowing skills and bold moves opened new doors of opportunities.
In retrospect, being left to his own brand of eclectic education turned out for the best. The results can be seen by clicking on the thumbnails (which include commentary on the paintings). Furthermore, John's bad experiences with formal art education has lead him to continue on to an Master of Fine Art in Studio Arts at Vermont College of Norwich University ("so that my mother would stop nagging me". His new goal: not to bore students to death in the classroom by teaching the art of painting from his point of view ). After all, John has experience on something that art schools completely neglect to teach its students: how to succeed as an artist in the real world.
PAINTING HABITSJohn learned and practice painting using Crayola crayons and non-toxic tempera colours (yes, the same six-jar pack most children use in school). His cartoons are still done in tempera. He used acrylics for the first time when he did his first painting, a mural. When speed and bright colours is of the essence, he uses acrylic paints. He was introduced to oils at the Cleveland Institute of Art. They immediately became his medium of choice. With oils, he favours a limited palette to concentrate more on values. For smaller paintings, he works on canvas, but prefers the smooth surface of masonite panels.
Like many artists, John hates math (geometry is the only exception) and has some eccentric habits. The most obvious one is that he paints mainly at night. The only time he paints during daylight is when he works on exterior murals. He paints with either hand, even though he is general right handed. As an artist, John shares common traits with other artists. But, the one thing that John does not share is an interest in the act of painting. He laments his habit of procrastinating before the commencement of a new commission due to this fact. And before he can get started, John always follows the following ritual: he cleans his whole house spotless.
When painting, John takes a lot of breaks, paints while listening to books on tape or romantic music, snacks constantly, and is addicted to coffee (mountain-grown Puerto Rican). He always buys the best quality materials and equipment. His favourite art supplier is Utrecht (www.utrechtart.com). Other favourite artists of his are Jean August Dominique Ingres and Jean León Gérôme (French), Ken Davies (American), Norman Rockwell (American), Lord Frederick Leighton (British) and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Dutch-British). His favorite female artists are Artemisia Gentilleschi (Italian) and contemporary siren, Tamara de Lempicka (Polish).
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