Debra Ramsay: Flying Colors

Curated by Mary Birmingham

Debra Ramsay, Prothonotary Warbler, 2022, acrylic on cast acrylic, 5.25" x 8.25" x .75"
May 19 - September 1, 2024

Flying Colors is a multisensory installation by Debra Ramsay that evokes the visual and auditory experience of birdwatching. Tracking various species that migrate through New York City over the course of a year, Ramsay creates small abstract paintings that record three distinct plumage colors from each bird. Painted on translucent acrylic panels, the colors seem to flicker and change as the viewer moves through the gallery space, animating the works. Capturing the ephemeral nature of birds in flight, the paintings also hint at their vulnerability in the face of climate change. 

Debra Ramsay is a New York-based artist who uses color to portray the passage of time. For this project, she has relied on data from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which will provide illustrations and recorded birdsongs for the species included. A fully-illustrated catalog will accompany the exhibition.

Debra Ramsay, Prothonotary Warbler, 2022, acrylic on cast acrylic, 5.25" x 8.25" x .75"

Artist Statement

Continuing my exploration of using color to portray the passage of time, this ongoing series captures the plumage colors of migratory birds in Central Park, NYC, throughout a year. Each specific bird spends a predictable amount of time in the park, twice a year, on its journey in search of the primary resources, food and nesting locations.

To create this series, I receive daily eBird alerts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, providing confirmed bird sightings in Central Park. Using this information as a foundation, I use online resources to learn about the specific species, including its migratory patterns, behaviors, calls, and songs. This immersive process can take days to weeks until I develop a comprehensive understanding of the unique qualities of that bird. While I strive to study both male and female birds, information regarding female birds is often less readily available.

During this time of getting to know the bird, I decide on three distinct plumage colors to represent it. These colors are then mixed using digital tools to create accurate color representations avoiding any personal color preferences. Drawing inspiration from my experiences as a novice birdwatcher and aiming to evoke a similar experience for the viewer, I apply colors to the acrylic panels to manipulate visibility as the viewer moves, challenging spatial expectations. For example: a color you see from a side angle may not be visible from a frontal view. The unpainted areas on the panels suggest the open air where these birds thrive.

These paintings are the result of extensive research, yet the viewer’s experience takes precedence. This series mirrors my profound respect for the natural world, its cycles, and its inhabitants. With a keen awareness of the fragile state of our environment, each painting serves as a tribute to a species. These artworks are devotional objects, reminding us of the delicate balance that sustains life.

About the Artist

Debra Ramsay is an abstract artist working in the disciplines of painting, drawing, and installation. She maintains a full-time studio practice in New York City. Ramsay has exhibited her work internationally for the past three decades, including in Denmark, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.

Solo exhibitions in the United States include the Hunterdon Museum in Clinton, NJ, 2024, Brattleboro Museum in Brattleboro, VT, 2017; Odetta Gallery, Brooklyn, and 57 W 57th Arts, NY, 2016. Additional recent exhibitions include Field Guide at the Garrison Art Center, Garrison, NY (2024) Reflection Mere at Marquee Projects, Bellport, NY, Yi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, (de)coding at the Visual Arts Center of NJ, and Embody at the Ely Center for Contemporary Art in New Haven. She was awarded a 2018 residency at the Golden Foundation in New Berlin, NY.

She was awarded a 2016 residency at the Albers Foundation, a 2013 residency at the Golden Foundation in New Berlin, NY, and 2012 a fellowship at BAU Institute in Otranto, Italy.

The Hofstra University Museum of Art and Brooklyn College acquired her work in 2021. In Spring 2020, Ramsay was the featured visual artist in The Cincinnati Review, and in 2017 her work was included in an exhibition and publication of the same name, Chromotopia: An Illustrated History of Colour. The book by David Coles was published by Thames and Hudson.

Learn more about Ramsay at

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