Saturday, February 14, 2009

Let's Celebrate the Safarians

Ronna Rio is Big Sur’s most inspiring metaphysical guide, and her medium is oil paint, shamanism and the human spirit. Her mission is to give her painting students (she has mid-wifed scores of them over the past 15 years) a deeper sense of their own divinity, by claiming their creativity in relationship to this land. “The painting process heals," she says, "and offers us the opportunity to transform matter into spirit, spiritualizing our instincts."

Ronna’s mother was an actress as well as a speech and drama teacher in Hollywood, a Scandinavian beauty who gave her daughter a sense of wholesome glamour. She began painting at age 10, and like many little girls, painted horses, going on to ride and jump these creatures in equestrian events. A Catholic school girl, she created altars of flowers and sequins, dedicating them to her favorite goddesses, the Virgin Mary and Marilyn Monroe.

Majoring in Art, Art Education and Psychology at San Jose State University, Ronna also studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. She then pursued a dream and trained wild animals with “affection trainer” Ralph Helfer, creator of Marine World / Africa USA. Working with animals— giraffes, water buffaloes, monkeys, lions and bears, gave her the deeper wisdom needed to work with people.

“I understand that, like with the animals, the most important thing for my students to overcome is fear. Learning to trust their imagination sets them free." Her grounded, confident approach to teaching helps her students understand that, “Being artistic is not necessarily a ‘gift’ but something we can learn and develop.”

Ronna began her career as an art teacher at Lake Tahoe’s Sierra Nevada College, where she taught design, sculpture, pastel, watercolor, and oil painting. She also obtained another degree while there, in Environmental Science. She currently teaches her students the design principles of painting, but the style is decidedly Expressionist. As a dynamic instructor, what she offers is always growing and changing.

One of Ronna's first students, Sula Nichols, credits her with teaching her how to use color. "Color is like learning a language. You look at a color and learn how to mix that color for the canvas, so that you can best convey what you feel. Ronna is also a supportive teacher, whose confidence in her students gives them confidence." Long-time student Marlene Adair adds, "I've studied with her for almost 10 years. She often says to me, 'Flame out, and let go! It works."


The Safarians, as Ronna's women's painting group is known, attend two series of classes year-long, one in the Fall, one in the Spring. The Fall series, which runs 14 weeks, is titled Painting Altars of Gratitude (An Inner Life Refuge.) This Spring's upcoming 12 week series is titled Tuning into the Immortal Rhythm of Nature's Forces. Students will paint Expressionistic landscapes of Big Sur's power spots.

The Fauves (French Expressionists of the early 1900's) is the school of painting Ronna identifies with most, and perhaps it’s no accident that Fauves means Wild Beasts. These painters went into new, colorful territory, much like her Safarians do now. Other influences she cites are Carl Jung, Eduard Munch, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Campbell (whom she studied with at Esalen Institute.) She adds her mentor, local painter and writer, Carolyn Kleefeld to her list. Carolyn, Ronna says, "has no inner critic, she is pure creativity, and it simply flows out of her."

In her classes, students discover their mythological journey, by painting and dialoguing with archetypes and symbols, discovered in a Jungian collage process. Ronna has developed what she calls "Matrix Painting." This is an autonomous method that begins by moving the paint playfully on the canvas, evoking and intuiting images from the unconscious for personal and planetary wisdom and healing. "All the transformative forces of nature move through us, both destructive and creative forces," she says. "As artists, we’re constantly destroying and creating, responding to these primal energies. We are Nature."

Living in Big Sur is the perfect laboratory for this life process. The contrast between epic natural beauty and pioneer style hardship (fires, snakebites, mudslides and all the rest) calls forth exponential personal growth.

During a snowstorm in Tahoe 20 odd years ago, her husband Michael Emmons called her to ask if she'd like to move to Big Sur. Curiously, she was reading Henry Miller's "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch" at that moment. Ronna and her husband lost their studio during the Basin Complex Fire last summer, but their home is still standing proud on the edge of Partington Canyon. "We have to practice radical acceptance no matter what happens," she says, "this is how we overcome fear."

“As Safarians we are nomads, and aren’t afraid to get lost. We explore new territory, making multi-dimensional discoveries," Ronna says. "Our map is oneness with the Divine in our creative process, and our paintings are like our journals and dreams, showing us the deeper meaning in our lives." She adds, "To honor the Divine within ourselves is our goal."

For more information about her classes, please contact Ronna directly at her Big Sur Studio: 831 667 2133.

All of the completed works by Ronna Rio shown above can be found at the Big Sur Gallery in Carmel.
Rio's work can also be seen at the Del Campo Gallery in Big Sur.
Ronna working at home, on Threshold.
Genesis of the Feminine
Worship of the Morning Star
Heading North in Paradise
Ronna with Twinkle

1 comment:

Lisa G. said...

Yay Ronna!
Yay Linda!
Yay Twinkle!