Call Justin Ransburg a challenger.

After all, the 28-year-old may not be the artist he is today without challenges to his talent, his location or his imagination.

With a brother, Maurice, ten years his senior who was studying graphic design at Hinds Community College, a young Justin asked the older to draw a picture for him.

Justin says, “He made me draw it myself, a picture of Bugs Bunny or something.” Maurice critiqued — and challenged, calling it cool, “but this line should go this way or that way… like big brothers do.”

Friends Corey Wilson and K.C. McCray were contemporaries who pushed Ransburg to explore his artistic side, drawing Japanese animation, a competition of sorts, to see who could knock out the best Dragon Ball Z character.

In school, Mr. Pleas was Ransburg’s first art teacher, showing how to draw figures using shapes. “If you want to draw something, break it down,” Ransburg remembers of the simple method.  The following year, Coach Britton taught passion for art. “In class one day, he said, ‘You don’t just draw, YOU DRAW!’” Ransburg wrings his hands in the air and laughs at his own recreation of the memory. “That moment from over ten years ago has really stuck with me.”

Ransburg is a graduate of Texas Southern University, a Fine Art major with an emphasis in painting. And he may have stayed in Houston if not for a case of the homesick blues.

Coming back to Jackson after graduation to be closer to family, he worked as gallery coordinator of Gallery 1 at Jackson State University. He was an artist in residence for two years with Jackson Public Schools’ Ask for More Arts, first at Lanier teaching mural painting and then at Walton Elementary teaching collage art. And, Ransburg was one of the first artists to showcase at Offbeat at Midtown. “In Houston, I thought I couldn’t do these things because of density and competition,” he explains. “In Jackson? Sometimes you have to create your own opportunities.”

That was the encouragement of his mother, too, who suggested the artsy Fondren neighborhood as a diversion when Ransburg was home from college on summer and holiday breaks.

Once he returned to his hometown, Ransburg began setting up at what was then Fondren After 5, offering caricatures, selling prints and art buttons. Live painting kept bringing him back to Fondren’s First Thursday.

In May 2016, during one of those live paintings at Cups, a Star Wars piece as an ode to “May the Fourth Be With You,” Chane offered Ransburg space to finish in The Wonderlab, a collaborative studio space (formerly at Fondren Corner).

Ransburg’s work is a mix of surrealism, figurative painting and pop culture, a conglomeration of stories he hears. He hopes to take more commissions soon, helping his clients tell their stories, too. “I enjoy doing work for others, because they’ll cherish it and take care of it,” he says. “I like taking people’s ideas and bringing them to life.”

Being in Fondren, Ransburg has already had more interest and praise for his work and the sentiment is not lost on him.  “I’m learning to be more grateful for the small gestures in life,” he notes. “If they comment or tell someone about me – or buy a piece: all those things come together to show you are headed in the right direction.”

Ransburg’s other passion is video production, something he hopes to do more of in the next year. He shot the short film “Letters From a Transient” in 2014 with Astin Sullivan.

See Ransburg work on Instagram | Buy Ransburg’s work on Store Envy

This story was updated in 2020.