Michael Ramsden

Bio text for Australian painter Michael Ramsden for the interview website The Avantgarde Diaries

Michael Ramsden (*March 30th 1947 in Sydney, Australia): the Australian painter attended the prestigious „National Art School“ in Sydney from 1963 to 1965, afterwards starting a successful career in Australia. In 1990 he followed the invitation of his longtime friend, the German movie director Wim Wenders, and moved to Berlin where he stayed for 12 years before returning to his home country in 2002.


Michael Ramsden was born in March 1947 in Sydney, Australia, where he turned to the visuals arts early on in life. He took up his studies in the Arts as early as 16 years of age, when he enrolled in the “National Art School” for two years before leaving the institution without a degree in 1965 to pursue his work. The first opportunity to exhibit his work soon followed in 1967 and his career evolved from there.

In the end it was just a coincidence that brought Michael Ramsden to the attention of Wim Wenders. The director was touring Australia in preparation of his film production for  “Until the End of the World” when noticing Ramsden’s artworks. Fascinated by Ramsden’s ability to capture the distinctive play of lights and colors of the Australian continent, its wild and untouched nature and the ancient paintings of the Aborigines, Wenders became friends with the artist. In 1990 Ramsden took up Wenders‘ invitation and moved to Berlin, where he started painting high above Berlin in Wim Wenders‘ private apartment. He stayed on and later established his own studio in the eastern part of Berlin after the city had been reunited. After working in Berlin for 12 years, in 2002, he decided to return to his homeland, where he lives and works seclusively to this day. He took up residence in the small, abandoned gold mining town of Hill End.


In his work, Michael Ramsden combines the wild and pristine nature of Australia with elements of the ancient culture of the Aborigines. His work is strongly inspired by form and motives of the Aboriginal cultures but he contrasts this with traces of decay such as can be found in many metropolitan city structures. This polarity of natural and urban components informs most of his work.

“Nature trapped in walls” is the central theme in many of Michael Ramsden’s paintings that shift time and again into structures on which artistic impression converges with natural processes of decay. Ultra-thin coatings of color on rough sand become the artistic equivalent of atmospheric effects on buildings and stonework. Singular motives even bridge the divide of contemporary urban graffiti and the ancient tribal wall paintings of thousands of years ago.

Archaeologist Ramsden concentrates on the workmanship of things that have been used and discarded by their owners. In this method he finds that evidence of use and the wear and tear of objects become as much part of the composition of the image as the suture and overlap of the fabrics.

By applying wax in the process of creation he is able to transform the given colors, textures and motives of the fabrics, covers and fine carpets, which are put up on wooden frames. The many gestural traces suppress the original textures and only the most prominent maintain their position in the compositionThe pieces of the natures mortes series might be considered some of the most extraordinary of Ramsden’s works. Readymades or found objects such as seed pouches or blossoms of different plants, pieces of ancient bark, animal bones or antlers become part of the exhibited composition, safely stored behind glass in modern reinterpretations of the classical still life. The French title of the series natures mortes can be taken literally, as it translates into “dead nature” and refers to the inanimate natural objects that have been carefully arranged on the table, subtracting all randomness. The relation of image and imagination is deferred as well as their proportions. Not the arranged objects are recognized as art, but the table itself, the frame of configuration has become part of the image. The objects are inserted as miniatures into the vastness of their presentation. The image within the cased display thus becomes a window for art to gaze into reality but it also captures the objects within a translucent coffin: “nature trapped in walls”.