"I'm very much involved in art," Ronnie tells The Boot. "I started buying art a few years ago and really like the work of T.C. Cannon, who is a native American artist. Then I was introduced to Soviet-era Russian impressionism and started collecting that, especially Gely Korzhev."
While those two art forms may sound the world apart that they are, an examination of each artist brings them closer than one might think. Cannon, who is considered one of the first in the wave of contemporary Native American art, depicts his fellow Native Americans in his contemporary scenes. Korzhev, thought by many Russian art historians to be one of the most influential realist painters of the second half of the 20th century, paints his contemporaries in typical Russian backgrounds.
Ronnie and his friend Ray Johnson have partnered to found the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, Minn., where Johnson lives. "It's like owning an original piece of Mozart," Ronnie says of buying a Korzhev painting. "Ray got started in the 1980s, going to Russia with teams of PhDs and art experts. They would buy this stuff before the wall came down and bring it back to the U.S. He has the largest collection of Soviet art outside of the Soviet Union."
Former Arista Records label chief Tim DuBois introduced Ronnie to the Russian paintings. "I didn't know anything about investing," Ronnie recalls. "The tech bubble crashed and I ran into Tim one day. He had a degree in economics and he was a Vanderbilt University economics professor before he got into music. I asked him his opinion on what was going on at the time and what a good investment would be and he told me, 'I'll tell you something that will sound crazy to you, but I'm gonna send a guy over to you to talk about art. So, Ray took me and educated me as to how he was going about collecting the Russian art. I ended up heavily investing in it."
In spite of his investment in the country's art works, Ronnie has yet to make a trip to Russia to make his own exciting discoveries.
"They try to get me to come all the time," he notes. "It's like the wild west over there. You hear about all these guys who are like oligarchs, where all the Soviet money came into their hands after the system came down. They've asked me to come but I haven't been there yet. Ray has been given the People's Award in Russia. He's only one of five people outside the Soviet Union to receive it. He's an honorary ambassador over there so it would be fun to travel with him and play Red Square with country music."
In addition to collecting art, Ronnie has been introducing fans to his new single, 'Let the Cowboy Rock.' He'll be on the road again beginning April 22 in Clearwater, Fla. Get a full list of dates here.