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AS A YOUNG boy growing up in Brazil, Gustavo Ramos loved to draw, but a fine-art career wasn’t even a notion in his mind. Then, when he was 15, Ramos moved with his family to the United States. The change was startling for the teenager, who didn’t know any English when he arrived at his new high school in Arizona. “I had to depend a lot on observing body language when trying to communicate” Ramos recalls now, a decade later.
It proved to be a seminal time for the budding artist, whose careful observations of people’s expressions, gesticulations, and postures motivated him to depict the figure in pencil. “It gave me an edge in depicting those subtle bodily gestures that help tell a story,” he says. Determined to paint like the old masters, Ramos exclusively worked from life during his training. Now, when using reference photographs he has taken of his models, says Ramos, “I can conceptualize form. I’m able to look at the flat surface of a painting and picture space inside that surface.”
At 26, the Phoenix-area artist is already snapping up top accolades for his sensitive, contemporary portrayals of the figure in oil. In works like INFINITY—a painting starring his wife that touches on the mystery of life after death and the concept of eternity—he has been exploring storytelling techniques that convey more than just someone’s likeness. For guidance, he often studies Rembrandt van Rijn’s evocative portraits. “Rembrandt created the sense of a real per