When artist Julian Raven shares his story, he paints a picture as vivid and lively as the stunning works he displays in his new gallery on Wards Road.
Raven’s journey from a young English boy living in Spain with a penchant and talent for art to an internationally celebrated artist with a vast and versatile catalog of work has been full of peaks, valleys, and serendipitous moments. He seems to recall every step of his journey with gratitude for bringing him to where he is today.
Raven’s earliest memory of loving art occurred when he was about eight years old and living in Spain.
“I can remember sitting with my father on a veranda in a villa in southern Spain, where I grew up,” he recalled. “It was a sunny day, and I did a colored pencil drawing of some beautiful bougainvillea that was wrapped around a white-washed wall. It was a clear picture of my inclination towards the visual arts.”
When his family moved to Portugal when he was a bit older, Raven attended tiny international English-speaking schools and continued pursuing his passion for art. He won several art contests, but because the arts were not prioritized in these schools, Raven was not fully supported in his pursuit—that is, until the day his math teacher found him sketching in the school’s library.
“My math teacher saw me doodling in the library at the English International College and set a crushed can of Coke in front of me to sketch,” said Raven. “After I was done sketching, he basically took me by the hand and walked me over to meet David Bodlak, an artist and teacher in the art department.”
Bodlak mentored and championed Raven when the latter was in his mid-teens and continues to be a source of great inspiration to him to this day.
“He was a wonderful mentor,” Raven stated. “His enthusiasm and encouraging spirit were incredible. In an art class where you have all different skill levels, he would go from student to student and always find something redeemable about each person’s work. He has had a tremendous impact on me.”
Raven graduated high school at the age of 16 and took a year off to focus on his art. He then went on to study at the prestigious Chelsea College of Arts in London.
During his time at the College, Raven experienced a series of highs and lows. Although he “was in heaven because the facilities were huge,” he was struggling greatly with his father’s death, which happened when Raven was only 10, and with the political climate that surrounded him. He notes that he lost his faith in God and often felt hopeless and lost during this time.
Raven ended up leaving the College and going back to Spain, where he began to work in the bar business. Then, in early 1992, Raven’s life changed dramatically as he sat alone on a mountain.
“I came to faith in God in Spain, alone and sitting on a mountain, contemplating nature,” he recalled.
“That experience changed my life and led me down a spiritual journey where I began to pursue missionary work.”
This missionary work brought him to America. He originally planned to do missionary work in California for six months and then move to Mexico as a missionary, but he ended up moving to Elmira, New York, in 1996 instead. There, he met his wife, Gloria, and they started their own business: Raven’s Custom Creations. As Raven used his artistic skills to create custom-painted and decorative furniture, his passion for art was invigorated.
In addition to thriving artistically, Raven was spiritually and personally fulfilled. He and Gloria had three children, and he opened his own gallery in Elmira in 2007. Then the 2008 financial crisis occurred.
Forced to close the gallery, Raven and his family moved back to Spain for a year and a half. Ultimately, they moved back to Elmira and Raven opened a new gallery.
After entertaining the idea of RVing out west, Raven and Gloria decided to move to Lynchburg, where all three of their children still study at Liberty University. Raven knew that he wanted to open a gallery here; the challenge was finding the right spot for it. Julian Raven Artist, LLC, found a home at 2121 Wards Road and officially opened on March 25.
“I could have gotten a warehouse and been off the beaten path,” he said. “I looked at those options but decided that if I wanted to get up and running, I needed to be in an area with more movement. It’s sort of an unlikely setting for an art studio because I’m stuck between a Wendy’s and a McDonald’s, but it’s also sort of fitting because I’m a contrarian by nature. It just had what I saw as the bones to be something great.”
Raven and his son spent six weeks completely renovating the building, which houses not only Raven’s work, but also what he calls his “Renaissance Creative Palette” of services: painting parties, art classes, portrait painting and photography, and more. There is a screen-printing room downstairs and a brand-new photo studio, for which a ribbon cutting ceremony was held on June 15.
Raven says that his painting parties are a “real way to connect with people,” and adds that “seeing people who have never painted before create works of art is remarkable.” According to Raven, one gentleman came in a couple of times to paint, and after Raven shared the man’s second painting on Instagram, it sold for $100.
When it comes to Raven’s own work, he is a multimedia artist and photographer.
“I have a lot of very broad experience because my artistic hunger has made me curious to discover and try new things,” he noted. “I like to be constantly challenged. I always seem to find difficult things to do!”
That said, Raven specializes in abstract expressionism, which he says allows him “to share his inner-world experience and joy.” He recalls that an attendee of one of his shows referred to him as a “happy Pollock,” a moniker that he happily embraced.
There is no telling where Raven’s journey will take him next, but one thing is certain: he will continue to see the beauty in all things and to share his interpretations of that beauty with others.
“Beauty, for me, is so arresting,” he stated. “When I see true beauty—nature, people—I want
to capture it and share it with others. We live in some pretty serious times right now. I want people to feel lighter after leaving my gallery.”
To learn more about Julian Raven, his gallery and studio, and his art, check out his website (julianraven.com) and Facebook page.