Making the Old New Again

Commitment to classical methods pays off for young painter

Jahaziel Minor’s senior exhibition at the Art Academy of Cincinnati last April presented something remarkably different from other recent undergraduate shows. It focused on one large painting and the nearly 20 preparatory drawings and oil paintings he made to develop the final canvas.

Minor made the intensely detailed graphite studies and oil paintings from life while his friends posed in his own living room, and he combined this preparatory work into an ambitious composition that included seven figures.

This type of work is unusual for today’s fine-art undergraduates because it’s getting harder to find an art program that emphasizes classical training — that is, teaches students in the manner of the Old Masters with a primary emphasis on drawing and painting from life to create representational works of art. Influenced by the current art scene and a desire to embrace technology, many programs stress electronic media, installation and multimedia work. Although schools continue to require introductory drawing and painting courses, it can be a challenge for students who want to master these skills at an advanced level.

Minor, 23, who lives in Walnut Hills, was born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and moved to Baytown, Tex., at age 11 when his father, a pastor, was sent there to start a new church. His three brothers share his propensity for art.

“I guess I started drawing because I would watch my two older brothers draw cartoons and I could see how good they were,” he says. “They were probably my first inspiration.”

He took AP art classes in high school and came to Cincinnati for college.

“I didn’t know anything about Cincinnati, but the Art Academy seemed like a pretty good school, and they offered me a scholarship,” he says.

Minor spent his last three years at the Art Academy developing his skills independently.

“I was lucky enough to take two anatomy classes before they stopped offering it,” he says, “and that definitely helped me a lot with my drawing.”

At one point, he doubted whether to continue his studies, concerned about the difficulty of finding a job after he graduated. But a course with visiting professor Stephen Cefalo, a representational figure painter, revealed his calling.

“I decided to stick with it and give it all I had,” he remembers.

He chose not to work a part-time job so he could pour himself into his studies. “The last two years I painted like crazy, senior year that’s all I did. I would paint anytime I wasn’t in class.”

Minor’s hard work and independent spirit is already paying off. He sold nearly his entire senior show to a single collector. Thanks to his drawing mastery and knowledge of anatomy, he landed a full-time job as a sculptor at Sculpco, a Cincinnati-based company that creates prototype action figures for the toy industry.

“Sculpting is like drawing from all angles,” he says. “Drawing from observation is something we all need, whether you do graphic design, illustration, sculpting or anything that’s art related.”

Just last month, he received an Elizabeth Greenshields grant, awarded internationally to promising representational artists. When the thin envelope arrived in his mailbox, Minor recalls, “I knew it was either a rejection letter or an award letter, so I was really nervous about it. Before I even got to read the letter, a check fell out.”

That check was for just under $12,000.

A few weeks before hearing about the Greenshields grant, Minor got a call from art supply manufacturer Prismacolor, which had previously purchased two of his drawings for its colored-pencil packaging. He had entered its annual art competition, and not only did he win first place in the colored-pencil category but he also earned the grand prize, totaling $8,000.

“It was a pretty good month for me,” he says. “I paid back some of my student loans with the Prismacolor prize money.”

He and his wife, Jessica, whom Minor met their freshman year at the Art Academy, recently had a baby, so practicality is a priority.

“I won’t use Greenshields money towards loans, though, because they give it to you to further your art.”
Minor plans to invest the money in more artistic training, either through graduate school, travel or one-on-one study with Carl Samson, a Cincinnati artist who teaches in the classical tradition.

“I’ve only been painting for three years. I don’t want to be a mediocre painter who calls himself an artist,” Minor says.

His ultimate goal is to teach.

“If you have a talent, or if you have something unique, you should share it with someone else,” Minor says. “I’ve always wanted to teach, and share with people what I know.”

He’s optimistic and sees the art world pendulum swinging back towards traditional forms of painting: “One of the reasons I’m painting, and I want to teach, is that I hope to help other people discover this old/new wave of traditional painting. I’d like to be part of it if I can.”

Learn more about Jahaziel Minor at

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