A Cleveland Artist Returns Home From Asian Journey

Bina Nusantara University
July 2008
john rivera-resto in jakarta indonesia 2008

Dalam Fokus: Artis Amerika John Rivera-Resto

The often quote scriptural verse that says: "no one is a prophet in its own land," can best describe the career of American master-muralist John Rivera-Resto. The Cleveland native, hardly known outside the city's artistic circles, is a minor celebrity in several cities around the world in part due to the popularity of his award-winning educational website, 'muralmaster' (www.muralmaster.org), but mostly because of his own artistic genius. Not only is he considered one of the top-ten muralists in the United States, but is also hailed as a gifted writer and a brilliant lecturer.

Through muralmaster, John receives letters from students, professionals, and art lovers from over thirty countries as well as commissions and requests for speaking and workshop engagements. A graduate of Cleveland State University, The Vermont College of Norwish University, and alumnae of the prestigious Washington Internship Center, John is an artist, scholar, and performer. In a career that span over three decades in the visual arts, he has traveled through Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and next year will be visiting the city of Dubai for a commission in the United Arab Emirates. But the one place John had never visited was Asia, until now.

In early spring he simultaneously received two invitations. The first one was to revisit France, one of his favorite travel destinations, but it was the second letter that caught his attention. Miss Jane Chen, founding director ofOnStage, an Indonesian arts organization, invited him to visit her in Bali to do conceptual designs for one her projects. Unable to resist the lure of the exotic Orient –and his own adventurist streak, John readily accepted the offer.

Armed with a laptop and an Indonesian Cultural Visa, John took off in the middle of May. However, what was supposed to be a three-week trip to Bali turned into a three-month journey through several Asian destinations in Japan, Thailand and Indonesia, visiting towns and cities such as Tokyo, Denpasar, Jakarta, Batam, and Bangkok, several speaking engagements, a very popular lecture series, and a week-long workshop on mural painting.

John is an individual ideally suited for the fast pace of international ventures. He is outgoing, inquisitive, independent, a people-person; a trained actor, street-smart, resourceful, well educated, and a good conversationalist with an ear for languages. His confident demeanor, sharp wit and rock-star looks make him a welcome addition at many social gatherings. No sooner word got around that “the muralmaster” was visiting Indonesia invitations started coming in.

One of these invitations became several consultation meetings with Indonesia's powerful Taipan, Mr. Ir Ciputra. Mr. Ciputra, also known as "Indonesia's Donald Trump", is currently building his second city in Indonesia, another one in Viet-Nam (the first international deal of its kind), and has other projects in development in China, the United Arab Emirates and Libya. Currently the Ciputra Group had completed the design stage for an International Art Museum to be constructed in Jakarta, the Indonesia capital located in the island of Java, and was glad to have John go over their plans and hear his suggestions.

Taking advantage of his visit, John was sponsored by OnStage for a lecture series at the National Art Gallery in Jakarta. But the event was soon changed to the modern nearby facilities of BINUS International University, also co-sponsors of the event. At BINUS a delighted audience made up of professionals, journalists, educators, artists, designers, students and several prominent Indonesians figures were treated to a progression of very insightful but highly entertaining presentations by a master lecturer. The lecture series, titled: 'The Power of Art as an Instrument of Change', was a visual cocktail that dealt with the significant relationship between the arts with business, politics, and the economy. Special focus was given to the historical use of propaganda art as an effective psychological tool to influence public opinion.

As a special treat, John also presented, for the first time since its creation in 2001, his own acknowledge masterpiece: The Writing On The Wall: A Memorial and a Warning. This magnificent and awe-inspiring design of public art is a memorial dealing with the subject of genocide in the 20th century and beyond. This was a brave and timely move by John that left a few audience members holding back tears considering Indonesia's own history and its part in genocide during the late 1960's, a period recreated in the Mel Gibson- Sigourney Weaver movie The Year of Living Dangerously, directed by Australian filmmaker Peter Weir. The Writing on the Wall is indeed a provocative and inspiring work that deserves a worldwide audience.

Following the lecture series, John conducted a mural painting workshop to introduce Indonesian painters to his own techniques and business methodology as a muralist. The result was the creation of a major painting, 'the Anguish of Rama', John's retelling of the love story from the epic poem The Ramayama. Working with a selected team of college students and two of Jakarta's most gifted artists, Aditya Tobing and Guntur Wibowo, they were able to complete the work in six days to the enjoyment of local onlookers. Hosting an artistic event of this high caliber and its subsequent workshop was a proud first for BINUS University -and another peacock feather added to OnStage's hat, and also for Indonesia, where the art of organized traditional mural painting is in its infancy.

John Rivera-Resto’s brilliance as a presenter and his remarkable ability as a visual artist are in no small measure a result of his multicultural background and upbringing. He grew up in the Island of Puerto Rico, an American colonial territory; immerse in a Spanish-Caribbean culture until the age of twenty, before migrating to Cleveland, his birth town in the United States. Years of study and "going native" during his travels gave him a worldly perspective that can only be obtained through contact experience. This infused in him visual language and appealing qualities that the people of Indonesia, a nation made up of hundreds of cultures and former European colonies, welcomed and found refreshing.

Returning to his hometown of Cleveland, in the United States, after his extended and busy stay in Asia, John expresses mixed feelings during several interviews with the Jakarta Post, Visual Arts Magazine, and Laras Magazine. He clearly enjoys life in Cleveland (Paris and Old San Juan are his other favorites cities), but laments returning to the city's creative lethargy and current public apathy for traditional arts which he sees as a direct result of its decades-long economic and social ills. These ills he characterized as lack of strong and creative leadership, the lack of "new money” that invests in fresh ideas, a State tax that keeps industries away (-"and should be abolished"), and the "departure" of the entrepreneurial spirit in both business and government levels that he experienced in several rapidly evolving cities during his Asian journey.

John also confided that, as he gets older, he paints less while slowly moving his career into film-making, but that he greatly enjoys teaching and lecturing (and it shows). After all, John is not only a top professional in his field, but has to be one of the few professors that have actually experienced the places, the people, and the situations he talks about. In fact, one of his goals has always been to join the art faculty of an area college. However, while he has demonstrated an extraordinary gift for filling auditoriums in many international venues, there seems to be no interest in what he has to offer in his own back yard. For this reason, he is considering a few offers from other American cities and abroad though he feels reluctant to make the move due to personal reasons. But in the meantime, this will not deter him from accepting invitations from around the world from admirers who would be more than happy to have him. As for Asia one thing is certain, he will return.

Note: To read about John's Asian trip and the creation of "The Anguish of Rama" mural, see to his Murals page on the Menu.

About Muralmaster.org
Muralmaster® is ‘an educational site’ privately sponsored and maintained. It contains no pop-ups, sales banners or advertisements. People from over thirty countries routinely visit Muralmaster to enjoy the articles and admire the art. This website is also a great learning tool for artists and young students wanting to know more about the inner workings of this artistic profession. In Muralmaster they get what they can’t get elsewhere: an intimate and sobering look into the struggles of an artistic mind and the difficult career-realities of being an artist.