Artist Raymond Pickens

A self-taught artist paints larger-than-life portraits.

Artist Raymond Pickens

Raymond Pickens was such a gifted artist as a child, he was disqualified from a school yearbook contest. “They thought I traced it, and that’s when I realized I was a little better at this than everybody else,” he says. Now he’s one of Atlanta’s emerging artists represented by Gallery Anderson Smith in Buckhead where his large-scale pop art is available for purchase.

Pickens says despite his talent, he still pinches himself. “Being in a gallery is something I’ve only ever seen on TV. I never thought I would have a piece of my art in a gallery.”

Before hitting the mainstream art scene, Pickens was just a kid from Canton who constantly had a pen in his hand. “I was always doodling and sketching. Even in church, I drew little pictures,” he says. Pickens recalls teachers believing in his talent, but he never thought to pursue art as a career.

Three years ago, he started thinking differently about his work. He had switched from pen and ink to painting, and a friend encouraged him to reach out to a local gallery owner who liked what she saw. A solo show came next, and other galleries followed suit.

Pickens, a self-taught artist, says most of his inspiration comes from an internal connection with an intriguing person. He has painted sports titans like Kobe Bryant and Muhammad Ali, and music icons such as Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley. “I’m normally listening to their biography or their music. Once I hear a song that I connect with, I start researching the person, and that gets me on the path of who I want to paint,” he says.

Recently, Pickens has been especially moved by the late singer Amy Winehouse. Pickens pays tribute to Winehouse and her signature bouffant by painting her in black and white. Besides being a play on her album title, Back to Black, Pickens says he has other reasons for using the tones. “Many people who are super successful or gifted have this turmoil they’re dealing with. They’re so covered up in all this pain,” he says. His portrait of Winehouse is just one example of his strengths in shadow and shading.

A warehouse supervisor by day, Pickens works on his pieces one at a time at home after hours, but his artwork is always on his mind. “I’m constantly thinking about how I’m going to put this layer on this painting or how this shadow will fall in. When I come home, I add what I’ve been thinking about all day,” he says.

As for what’s next, Pickens wants to focus his immediate goals on getting into more galleries and gaining exposure. The distant future, however, is something he thinks about, too. “I get asked a lot if I would start my own gallery. I’ve played with the idea, but right now I love the creating side of it,” he says. When pressed about what his dream gallery might embody, it’s clear he’s put some thought into it and would focus on up-and-coming artists. “I’m an artist. I love trying to give people that hand. I want to give back to that side of it. I want to be that channel to help them,” he says.


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