Ron Garcia, ASC, is deep into an artistic endeavor he began more than 30 years ago, but then put on hold until recently. In 1967, he trained in fine arts at Art Center College of Design. Some years later, he took a sculpting class, and he was intrigued. Meanwhile, his career behind the camera was heating up. Decades passed, but Ron always had sculpture in the back of his mind. Three years ago, he found a nearby sculpture class in a converted farmhouse in Rustic Canyon, just north of Santa Monica.
Like many other ASC members, Ron was drawn to a solitary art as an outlet for creative expression outside the collaborative work of cinematography. He recently went to Taos, New Mexico, for a two-month sabbatical to concentrate on sculpture. He did five pieces.
Ron recalls, “I kept saying, ‘Oh, I need to answer those emails and phone calls.’ Finally, I decided I wanted to concentrate on sculpting while I was waiting for the work.
“I’ll be 75 in July, and for the last 10 years I’ve worked on television projects back to back to back to get my daughter through Columbia University in New York. It just wore me out. You get beat up; you get rode hard and put away wet. You try to hold onto your creativity in cinematography, but in network television, that’s disappearing very fast with digital technology.
“I gravitated toward sculpting because it really became my personal art; it’s a respite. In the motion-picture industry, you’re always giving and taking. When you’re sculpting, it’s just you, your hands and your creativity. As I work in that personal creative space, I stick up my soul catcher’s mitt, the universe throws me some information, and I try to catch part of it. It seems to go through me and into the sculptures. I sometimes wind up with weird pieces because I start off at one idea and wind up with something else. I have no idea where it comes from. It’s just a joy and a soul feeder. My studio at home looks out over the Pacific Ocean, and to me it’s nirvana.”
Ron’s pieces are sometimes representational, sometimes not, and sometimes both. He usually starts with a human figure. He currently has access to a studio and kiln at Loyola Marymount University.
“It’s just you and the model and you’re connected, even when you’re in a class with a dozen other people,” he says. “It’s almost like meditation. Last year, I decided to break out of the mold, and I started incorporating metal and organic dried-plant elements into my bisque clay forms. I found that I have to do at least three or four projects at the same time; you don’t want to force anything. I set one aside to see what gets caught in my soul catcher’s mitt, to let my subconscious work on it.”
Sculpture and cinematography do have aspects in common, he observes. “They’re really the same, but the medium is different. With lighting and composition, you’re still shaping things, shaping the environment around the actor and designing the movement, sculpting a film language.”
Once he finished several pieces, Ron started taking photos with his iPhone. “Before long I thought, I should take some better pictures. After all, I am a cinematographer — I’d better light my own personal creations! I have some skylights at my house, and that was my hard toplight or backlight. I’m buying some smaller equipment to light my sculptures, and that is going to be part of the art.”
Ron’s varied background includes work as an art director, set designer, construction coordinator, writer, editor and feature-film producer. He has also worked in electromechanical packaging design for the NASA Apollo program, where he worked on the Command Module and Saturn Stage 2 Rocket. He has 15 years of design drafting under his belt.
“All those past experiences in design are there in my motion-picture work, but it turns out that artistic design is in everything I do,” he says. “Now I’m starting to find that my sculptures are too dull just sitting there on a pedestal, so I’m designing lighting display pedestals with motion control. This is nothing new, but I’m getting great enjoyment from introducing motion and designing lighting for my art.”
A recent six-month trip to Dar es Salaam in Africa led to further inspiration for Ron. The trip involved four different safaris and volunteer work as a mentor for young Tanzanian filmmakers. The program was produced by Media for Development International under the auspices of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The project was a 13-part TV series called Siri ya Mtungi. (You can read about it here.)
“Being with those young filmmakers and thinking out loud with them about my filmmaking process was perfect for me,” Ron says. “They have little or no equipment to work with, and that’s how I started out in the motion-picture business. I was also a young filmmaker, and I know what it’s like to shoot with very little lighting and grip equipment because of low budgets. I think that really helped me when I started photographing on television schedules.”
In the spring, Ron will travel to Taos and Hawaii, this time for four to six months, to shoot time-lapse photography and stills, and to work on his sculpture. His last shooting gig was the TV series Rizzoli & Isles, and since then he has been helping young filmmakers working on low-budget features, including student films.
“Sculpture is just a different art form that I’m absolutely in love with at the moment,” he says. “It’s my life; it’s all I do right now. I’m interested in learning how to fire glazes for clay figures, which is going to take me the rest of my life, to tell you the truth. There are so many variables, and it’s not an exact science, and I love that. I love things that just happen.”