Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rex Ray

Thank you to Bonnie from California for reminding me about the artist Rex Ray. (I was first introduced to Ray and his work a few months ago by friend and local artist Joanna Olson.)

Rex Ray (1956 - 2015) was born Michael Patterson, and spent most of his adult life in California. A social activist, he made a living as a graphic artist, designing concert posters, album covers, and other commercial products. He turned to painting large canvases later in his career.

Bonnie recommended the book "Rex Ray: Art & Design", which includes an introduction by acclaimed author Douglas Coupland. Writes Coupland,
"Rex's work inhabits that small sliver of territory where art and design don't quite so much overlap, but rather swap identities so quickly and fluidly that one is never sure which is which. His pieces function as luxury goods, but at the same time they're art, and quite rigorous art at that. His work is well aware of its mission to confuse you. Its ultimate goal is to trick somebody who ought to know better into saying, 'It's not art, it's design,' thus exposing a lack of knowledge about shifting dunes in the sands of visual history."
This monograph is almost entirely images, grouped into four aspects of his oeuvre. First are the collages, using found paper, often cut from magazines.

From the paper collages, Ray developed a technique for collaging his own painted papers onto a wooden panel substrate.

And finally, Ray painted on large canvases, using a more complicated, detailed imagery that sometimes suggests still life.

The fourth section of the book includes some of his many graphic design projects. Ray was a pioneer in using computers as a design tool.

I find Ray's simple collages the most engaging. Here is what he had to say about making them:
"As the graphic design business grew, my clients got bigger and the money they offered rose in direct proportion to the decline in creativity they required. The collages were my rebellion against that and an antidote to the constant computer work I was doing. I wanted to do something juvenile, mindless, and rudimentarily creative. Not for exhibit. Just for my own pleasure; to get back to that spark of making something out of nothing.
"The collages were an intimate exercise that I began by turning off the computers, unplugging the phones, and drinking a glass of wine or smoking a little pot. Then I'd sit down and crank out collages. I'd do them to silence that internal critic we all have – the inner voice that judges, raves, and berates us. I usually did between three and ten a night whether I wanted to or not. Sometimes when I didn't feel like doing them was when I did my best work. It was a discipline. The next day I'd put them in a box and not look at them again for months. When I finally opened the boxes, I put the collages up in a giant grid and I was completely knocked out. It was the sort of revelation that I had waited my whole life for."

You can see lots more images of Ray's work by doing a Google search.

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