Ransome was born in North Carolina and moved to a New Jersey suburb as a teenager. He graduated from Pratt Institute and was a tenured professor in the School of Visual Performing Arts at Syracuse University before retiring to pursue his dreams of being a studio artist. He received his MFA in Studio Arts from Lesley University.
James lives in Rhinebeck New York with his wife Lesa Cline Ransome, a writer of children’s books.
“My artwork centers on my African-American lineage, which is traced back to sharecroppers of the American South who migrated to Northern cities along the East Coast. My pictorial narratives are personal, yet the symbols I use are universal and interplay with larger social, racial, ancestral, economic, and political histories that inform our nation to this day. The history of my family is the history of black Americans, which is the history of all of North America.
In my works, I often combine acrylic paint with an array of found, made, and purchased papers. The materials I use are conceptual statements on this legacy of an often-overlooked portion of society that made something out of nothing.
Both my representational and abstract works incorporate a variety of symbols, patterns, and marks to create powerful images filled with the rhythmic properties of music that weave throughout my oeuvre. Born in a generation infused by soul and R&B music, I grew up hearing rap music that freely sampled the music of my childhood, mixing and recomposing these songs to create rhythms befitting to hip hop music. In my work, my natural instinct is to paint and collage on the same surface, applying the same spontaneity of hip hop deejays and the resourcefulness of rural quilters, who use what is at hand, assembling, collaging, and creating.
While made of the energy of contemporary culture, my work is also influenced by Abstract Expressionism and draws from the soulfulness of the quilts from the women of Gee’s Bend. For me, there is a visual rhythm to layering these antipodes: found versus purchased objects, figures versus abstract, paint versus paper, busy versus quiet.
My work aims to imbue each piece with a lyrical yet authentic resilience borne of limited resources and frugality that speaks to the struggle and hope, pain, joy, and soul of folks in the black community.”