Most of us are taught never to stare, but for Canton-based artist Raymond Pickens, staring at faces allows him to make large-scale magic.

A self-declared people watcher, Raymond captures his one-of-a-kind perspective on the shadows and highlights of facial features and expressions, often bringing notable celebrities and musical icons to larger-than-life canvases. As much about identity and communication as the subjects themselves, Raymond’s works include the famous faces of Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, and many others.

Raymond Pickens - Photo Credit: Katie Johnson/KT Johnson Photography for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine

Raymond Pickens (Photo Credit: Katie Johnson/KT Johnson Photography)

Anyone following the growing Cherokee County arts scene over the past few years has likely seen at least one of Raymond’s bold and beautiful paintings, as his acrylic masterpieces are difficult to miss.

From Points to Portraits

With deep Cherokee roots, Raymond attended Reinhardt University in Waleska as a basketball player after gaining notoriety as a talented three-point shooter for the Cherokee High School Warriors. While supported by family and art teachers throughout his early years, Raymond says he never took his own artistic talent seriously. “I loved art from an early age,” Raymond says. “I started creating as a toddler, but for me, there’s always been a disconnect between turning something that’s so fun for me into a true career.” Reserved and charming, Raymond still is not comfortable with calling himself an artist. “I resist the idea of myself as a professional creator,” he says. “Comparison tends to trip me up.”

Raymond’s humility is sincere. He laughs at the fact that all his staring and noticing people over the years has resulted in a few awkward conversations. Other than sometimes having to reassure loved ones why he’s got his eyes on a passerby, no real downside has come from Raymond’s ability to see the details in faces that others may miss.

Pursuing His Passion

When Raymond started painting seriously just a few years ago, he focused on personalized commission pieces. Longtime friend William Carlan, now a Cherokee County associate magistrate judge, was the catalyst Raymond needed to believe in himself more and consider selling non-commissioned pieces. William, insistent that his friend explore what could come of sharing his works more broadly, connected Raymond with Menagerie on Main gallery owner and art curator Jamie Foreman, and the journey began.

Always looking for talented and outstanding North Georgia-based artists to showcase in her down-to-earth art shop, Jamie has been impressed with Raymond’s ability to stretch himself as a painter. “Raymond has embraced being open,” she says. “He has a way of just letting his art take him over. He’s able to let his talent speak for him, which isn’t easy for everyone to do. While the size and style of his work certainly stands out physically, I think it’s his way of pouring individuality into faces all of us recognize that creates a real human connection for people.”

Creative Connections

Creating a meaningful connection in each piece is a process that varies when Raymond breaks out his brushes. For his first Amy Winehouse work, he says he had never even heard her music. “I saw her; I read about her, and I knew I had to paint her,” he says. Raymond says that later, when he listened to her soulful, jazzy expressions, he became a big fan. Today he makes a practice of listening to musicians’ selections prior to painting their portraits and always while creating them.

Amy Winehouse portrait by Raymond Pickens - Photo Credit: Katie Johnson/KT Johnson Photography for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine

Amy Winehouse portrait by Raymond Pickens (Photo Credit: Katie Johnson/KT Johnson Photography)

When asked about what holds him back from being a full-time professional artist, Raymond shrugs and smiles sheepishly. “Consistency. That’s my block,” he says. As a hardworking warehouse supervisor with long hours, Raymond says he sees himself taking his artwork to the next level eventually. “I am focusing on getting outside of my comfort zone,” he says. “I want to stop putting myself in a box, stop being hesitant to paint certain topics because of the fear it won’t be my best.”

Ready to branch out, Raymond has transitioned from painting exclusively in black and white to portraits that incorporate more color and texture. Always learning and experimenting as he goes, he says his next projects may be the faces of wild animals rather than just humans. “I’m curious,” Raymond continues, “about how I can combine animals and people.”

Raymond Pickens: Made to Order

When Cherokee-based entrepreneur Rhiannon Turner was looking for a specific type of artwork for her new Lightyear Funding office at Thrive Canton in the historic Jones Mercantile building, she contacted art curator Jamie Foreman for assistance. The owner of art gallery Menagerie on Main, Jamie often acts as an art matchmaker for clients seeking just the right piece. 

When Jamie shared Raymond’s bold pieces with Rhiannon, she immediately recognized his ability to capture emotion in his works. “For our new space I really wanted a statement piece that represented imagination and played off the ‘Lightyear’ in our company name,” Rhiannon says. “Raymond and I talked about the logistics of the painting and about how the facial expressions should communicate. When Raymond suggested that the characters in the piece actually hold our logo, his understanding of what the work meant to me moved me to tears. This has been the first time art really connected with me. To have Raymond capture something deeper than cartoon characters and expertly create what I wanted the piece to evoke was really special.” The piece primarily depicts Buzz Lightyear from the Disney/Pixar Toy Story films. The character is the inspiration behind Rhiannon’s company name because her children loved the character for many years.

“Each time I look at the painting, I’m amazed that it looks like a digital photograph, but it’s all paint,” Rhiannon reports. “I’m grateful to have this incredible work that pushes me each day and inspires me to keep going.”

On Display

See Raymond Pickens’s art at these galleries:

Menagerie on Main

351 West Main Street, Canton

Gallery Anderson Smith

294 Buckhead Avenue, Atlanta

Follow Raymond (@raypicks.art) on Instagram to keep with new pieces and more. Website coming soon.




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