Stock trader swaps his market data for paintbrush and canvas


By Will Bowen

“From Wall Street to Wall Street! Yeah, that’s me. Ron Spelman … with one ‘L’... I started off working as a trader in the stock market on Wall Street in New York City and I ended up on Wall Street in La Jolla selling municipal bonds. I sold bonds for 25 years. But now I paint. It’s my obsession, my addiction, my new life challenge.

“Art was on my back burner all those years because of my business pursuits, but now I am living my dream. And you know what? I may be getting older, but I am getting better!”

Spelman, a member of the La Jolla Art Association, past president of the San Diego Portrait Society, and current president of the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild, opened his latest art show last week at the Guild’s gallery in Rancho Santa Fe.

The show, which will run for eight weeks to Sept. 8, is titled, “From Eye To Heart To Hand,” and consists of 12 of Spelman’s paintings. Each one showcases his “painterly” approach to the depiction of people, his forte.

Spelman said he grew up one of eight children in a struggling tumultuous Irish Catholic family on Long Island. His mother was studying to be a nun in the convent when she met his father and married him. She wanted her son, Ron, who was an altar boy, to be a priest.

Spelman’s father, who worked on Wall Street, bombed out during the Great Depression and never found his way back to business success, spending the remainder of his life trying to support his family by working menial jobs.

“Now my great-grandfather, Dennis Spelman, he was a different story. He came over from Ireland in the 1850s and ended up fighting for the North in the Civil War, where he rose from the rank of private to that of captain by the war’s end.”

Spelman started his own career as a clerk working across from the New York Stock Exchange. “I was fascinated just to talk to these people who were daily making such big decisions about stocks. I wanted to be just like them,” he said.

Spelman eventually landed a job as a trader on the stock exchange, which he says was, “The most exciting time of my life.”

But when his boss had a stroke and closed the company, Spelman was forced to find another position, this time as a municipal bonds salesman, the skill he eventually brought out to La Jolla.

“I was in business here in La Jolla for 14 years, from 1972 to 1986. The 1980s were particularly good to me. But I thought, I don’t want to die rich but unfulfilled. I need to pursue my art, which is a gift that I know I have, and which I can develop through hard work.”

It was a risk to take up art full-time, but also an opportunity, and I believe that when an opportunity arises, you should jump all over it and work your tail off.

“Everywhere I go, I carry a notebook to write down ideas and do sketching. It’s the only way you can improve and develop. I have hundreds of such notebooks, which I have filled up.”

Spelman is not out to change the world or how we see the world or make penetrating social commentary with his art. He said he is simply focused on the execution of superior technique and skill.

”I just want to be a great painter. I have a driving ambition to be good. It’s all I think about these days. I just want to draw and paint all the time. It’s hard to express how good it feels when you nail it and do a good painting, and people see that and express their appreciation. I just feel utterly elated.”

Spelman is already hard at work on his next art project, where he has set himself the daunting task of doing one portrait painting a day for 50 days in the row. Each new painting will be placed on Facebook where his friends and followers can view it.

“All people have to do is Google my Facebook and request to be my friend, which will enable them to view my paintings.”

“I call this project, ‘Shades of Gray.’ I am only using two colors — black and white. My purpose is to develop my ability to see the planes of the face and what artists call ‘value,’ which is the gradation from light to dark that you see in each person’s countenance.”

Besides his ambition and hard work ethic, the thing that sets Spelman apart is his exemplary attitude.

“Some artists think that as they get older and pass their prime, they loose their ability; their hand shakes or their eyes aren’t as good. But not me. My hand is steady and I see better than ever. Maybe I can’t run or walk as fast as when I was young, but I am developing into a better painter every day.

“I go to bed at night thinking tomorrow is going to be a better day. I look forward to tomorrow because tomorrow I will be a better painter and I will paint a better picture. And you can take that to the bank!”