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For artist Michael Ringer, a northern ‘fascination’ never loses its luster

For artist Michael Ringer, a northern ‘fascination’ never loses its luster

ALEXANDRIA BAY — As one enters the world of Michael C. Ringer at his Dingman Point home and studio, the north country comes startlingly alive. The artist’s creations reflect a world of rivers, boats, buoys, summer homes, birds, fish, mountains and everything else that naturally makes up our region.The artist himself has carved out his own reputation as one of the foremost artists in the region. His name is synonymous with its beauty.But among the numerous paintings, bronze sculptures, ship models and other projects in his studio, a corner wall in the back is reserved for a special piece. It’s the first painting he created.The scene, an interior of a country store, was painted when he was a student in the Amherst Central School District in Erie County.“It was unbelievably fascinating to me to see that I could take globs of paint and with a wood handle that has hairs glued to the end of it, take those globs and make it look like something,” Mr. Ringer said. “That was something that caught my imagination.”I paid Mr. Ringer a visit earlier this month to gain insight into that imagination and to see what’s new. It was a wide-ranging interview covering topics ranging from art theory to astute reflections on how he got to where he is and the people who inspired him.“Now, painting is a lot more to me,” Mr. Ringer, 69, said, noting that country store scene. “It’s theory, color movement and all of those different things. But that initial fascination has always been with me since the age of 12. That’s what has sustained me and kept me going.”Mr. Ringer is coming off the longest stretch in his career (about a year) in which he hasn’t painted. He’s been working with his daughter Marsha Ringer Topa, who manages his business, to launch some new projects.“I never went more than a month or so without being engrossed in painting,” he said. “I’m getting back into it now, and it still holds the same fascination.”‘An easy A!’That fascination with painting began with an elective class in middle school. In seventh grade, he met with his guidance counselor to book plans for eighth grade.“My best friend called me up the night before and said, ‘You gotta take art,’” Mr. Ringer said. “I said, ‘Denny, I’m really not that good at art and don’t care for it that much.’”The young Mr. Ringer had his mind set on a shop/technology class where the task was to create crystal diode transistor radios. But his friend still stressed the art class.“He finally said, ‘Mike — it’s an easy A!’ That’s what got me. I signed up for it and we had a new teacher.”That teacher, V. Roger Lalli, who died in 2010 at the age of 88, gave Mr. Ringer encouragement to continue painting. He studied with Mr. Lalli through 12th grade, with all thoughts of an “easy A” erased. “He told me, ‘I’ve never had a student who worked so hard,’” Mr. Ringer said.He was also told that by Willard “Will” Russell Harris (1933-2008), a 30-year faculty member of the University of Buffalo Department of Art. Mr. Ringer received bachelor and master degrees in art from the University of Buffalo after receiving an associate degree in design from the Rochester Institute of Technology. In college, he specialized in realism — the technique of representing things as they appear to be without idealizing.But Mr. Harris told Mr. Ringer that he should open his mind to other artists, such as American John Marin, (1870-1953), who was known for his abstract landscape paintings.“It was the best deal that I ever had,” Mr. Ringer said. “I immediately went to the library and got books on Marin and other artists. Instead of doing my hunting, sporting, fishing and whatever paintings I was doing, I started emulating Marin. For the next two years, I couldn’t get enough of it. I hardly painted a realistic painting in that time.”But Mr. Harris had ulterior motives. After Mr. Ringer’s graduation ceremony from the University of Buffalo, the professor walked up to him and gave him some advice. Tears formed in Mr. Ringer’s eyes as he recalled the conversation.“He said, “My suggestion to you is to go back to your realism and take everything you’ve learned,’” Mr. Ringer said.Mr. Harris, Mr. Ringer said, cured him of his tunnel vision.“Here was a professor who was so smart that he got me to do exactly what he wanted me to do by making me believe that it was exactly what I wanted to do,” he said.“It’s why I see art differently,” Mr. Ringer said. “I’ve been to so many art shows where I’ve seen realistic artists who are really good and on the cusp of things, but they didn’t have any ideas about abstraction — how to move forms and how to move textures within textures.”Getting to know the riverAfter graduating from the University of Buffalo, Mr. Ringer spent three years teaching art at Ogdensburg Free Academy. He was yet to discover the art potential of the St. Lawrence River and painted just one lighthouse scene while there, preferring instead to focus inland, such as the Adirondacks. Mr. Ringer left his job at OFA to move back to the Buffalo area, where he opened a commercial art business. But shortly later he decided to get back into teaching. He got at job teaching art at the Alexandria Central School District after he and his wife, Margaret (“She’s the brains of the outfit,” he says) married in the summer of 1974 and moved to this area.Mr. Ringer, who paints in several mediums, taught art until 1990 when he decided to pursue a solo career. He and Margaret (“Meg”) lived in Redwood for 13 years before moving to Dingman Point.“When I finally decided that I wanted to paint the river, I had a very difficult time because I didn’t know it,” Mr. Ringer said. “I’d been out there fishing a few times, but the idea of just going someplace without really knowing it and just start painting? I thought, ‘I can’t do it.’”His epiphany came one summer morning at Otter Creek Preserve on Route 26 in Alexandria Bay. He wanted to see the sunrise from the creek’s vantage point.“I got in my old tin boat with a 10-horsepower Johnson outboard from the 1950s and I’m cranking and getting sweaty,” Mr. Ringer recalled. “I’m all alone and it wasn’t starting.”He began to drift away from the preserve’s boat launch. He gave up on the engine and basked in the calm silence.“I just sat there for a few minutes and the sun started to come up,” he said. “I looked around and went, ‘Oh, my God. It’s beautiful.’ That’s the day I fell in love with the river.”He had a similar epiphany in the Adirondacks after spending time at the Gooley Club, located near Newcomb, Essex County. “People seemed to respond to what I was doing,” Mr. Ringer said. “From there, we built galleries.”The first was at his Redwood home. His galleries are now in the village of Clayton and on Dingman Point.“I like to paint because I love God’s beauty,” Mr. Ringer said. “I’m just an imitator of what God does. I do the best I can. Every single painting I finish I look at and go, ‘How did I do that?’” “Sunday Portrait” is an occasional column in the Watertown Daily Times’ Sunday Life & Livelihood section. Write to Chris Brock at or at the Watertown Daily Times, 260 Washington St., Watertown, N.Y., 13601.
Source: Watertown Daily Times Latest News
For artist Michael Ringer, a northern ‘fascination’ never loses its luster

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