Growing up in the seaside town of Coronado, California across the bay from San Diego, artist John David Ratajkowski remembers “being able to draw anything I could see.” Fascinated as a boy by all variety of materials, Ratajkowski was early on adept at drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, lithography. He recalls that the key attraction for him in every case was the compelling desire “to make”—whatever the media.

His exceptional drawing ability found expression in a series of pen and ink drawings of African-American blues musicians published as illustrations for a seminal work on American blues. Early on, though, Ratajkowski knew his “true love” was painting. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, remarkable large black and white portraits of Alzheimer’s patients testifies to Ratajkowski’s capacity to render the figure realistically. Throughout his career, a concentration on abstract painting has allowed Ratajkowski to explore unique possibilities in form and color, and these experiments have powerfully impacted his portraiture. From subjects as diverse as the Alzheimer’s patients, the Roma of Eastern Europe, Jewish literary figure in film American blues musicians, Irish musicians, the portraits achieve their uniqueness from methods refined in his abstract work.

Ratajkowski’s abstract work took him to Ireland for a two-year sabbatical to work at non-figurative landscape; this work resulted in two major exhibitions in Dublin. Invited to be a resident artist at “Dom Polonia”, a national arts council in Poland, and then to Bulgaria to exhibit in that country’s Triennial, Ratajkowski traveled through Eastern Europe photographing and sketching Gypsy communities and producing a series of painting collages of Roma life. This series was sponsored by the Lipinsky Council for the Humanities.

The need to absorb the influences of different places paired with his fascination with material and technique manifests itself in all aspects of Ratajkowski’s life: for the last three decades he has restored two old houses, one in the pueblo of Sant Joan, Mallorca, and the other in Bantry, County Cork, Ireland.

Exhibited in Europe and the US, Ratajkowski has had over twenty-five exhibitions (see Select Exhibition page).

For forty years, John taught art in North County, San Diego, mentoring generations of art students who have established themselves as serious artists and continue to stay in regular contact with their teacher.


As early in my childhood as I can remember, I have “made things”—even my dreams were filled with images of how I would finish a drawing, a miniature carved tribe of soldiers, a wire sculpture—images never ceased to bubble up in my imagination. Key to my work through the decades of my art-making, is experimentation with materials—encaustic, bronze, raw pigments, found objects, clay. Because I make my own paint and work with such a variety of media, the process is all-important to me: the final image is only the outcome of my artistic experience—that process is what has shaped my identity as an artist and as a person.

John Ratajkowski

August 2019