Tri-state legend Ricky Steele premieres new artwork at Florida State University Panama City

Jan Waddy

Tri-state legend Ricky Steele will premiere his new artwork at Florida State University Panama City on Aug. 30, as part of the “Illumination, Shedding Light on Diversity” series.

Steele, an award-winning artist, will discuss challenges he’s faced during his more than 40-year career and the history behind his pieces. Described as “the emotional painter,” his art tells stories of poverty, race and social injustice. His works also evoke the joy of childhood and family bonds inspired by his own family. Steele has strong roots in Bay County, where his father, Howard Buck Steele, was one of the first African American police officers.

Steele, 63, graduated from Mosley High School in 1977. He then attended Gulf Coast Community College before going to Tom P. Haney Technical Center. Steele graduated from Haney in 1981, becoming the area’s first Black airbrush artist. As his career progressed, he delved into art forms including mixed media with acrylics, watercolor and fine art. His artwork ranges from the vibrant musical abstracts to children of different races embracing, celebrating the unifying power of the arts. Locally, Steele’s work has been featured at the Gulf Jazz Society’s Jazz by the Bay and the Panama City Center for the Arts. He has won over 100 awards around the U.S. and abroad. His awards include first place in the Arts in the Heart Festival showcasing fine arts in Augusta, Georgia. Steele was nominated this year as a 2022 tri-state legend.

Steele has had tremendous success painting Black historical figures, including portraits of the former U.S. Rep. John Lewis, which is displayed at the Panama City City Hall, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., music legend Aretha Franklin, NBA legend Michael Jordan and former U.S. President Barack Obama. Using images as a guide when creating his realistic portraits, Steele captures signature expressions of his subjects.

The Aug. 30 Illumination event is set for 5-6:30 p.m. at FSU Panama City, 4750 Collegiate Drive, Panama City. The presentation will take place in FSU Panama City’s lecture hall in the Holley Academic Center. Light refreshments and hors d’oeuvres will be served. The presentation and reception are free and open to the public. For more upcoming events in the Illumination series, visit