Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rex Ray's Flamboyant Formalism

A couple of years ago when visiting my favourite bookshop in Newcastle 'The Bookhog ' the manager Suzanne (who happens to be one of those quietly extraordinary people who knows her customers well and acts as mentor and book whisperer...well...I needed a name for what she I had to make that one up on the spot) came up to me and put a book in my hands and said buy this one Sophie! Rarely a false step on her part in recommending many a book I took time to pour through REX RAY ART and DESIGN ...and yes... it came home with me! 
I was very drawn to his process of working and his story was compelling, visually and otherwise. An article posted at Artworks magazine  in 2008 covers the story quite succinctly. A Chronicle Books publication the book on REX RAY was indeed appealing. It felt Iike I was entering a world of colour and form when I opened the pages. 
Douglas Coupland says in the foreward this art manages to be "unslick - but...superslick at the same time." Its not that no one else has worked with these materials or shapes ...they are certainly not unique to him. BUT there is a singularity in his particular immersion in colour and form that works like its very much his own language...born of something authentic within the artist that has found it way out into the world, without contrivance, or being added on or copied. 

In the last 2 images shown above the walls are filled with collaged works on paper. Anyone who has attempted similar exercises with cut and paste know poetry does not arrive simply out of placing and gluing some bits of colour on paper. The rhythm here is evident shapes, in tones and hues, in variations on several key themes. He listens to music intensely in his studio whilst at work and the music seems to very much be alive in the work. I'm tempted to think of them as colour poems.
Some have been quick to pass him off as 'too' graphic, 'too' design oriented. However, having worked compusively with a particular elliptical form in my work over some years, long before seeing this work, I find it only too easy to recognise how deeply a form can live in you and need to be articulated over and over.

Rex ray gallery 16 new work san francisco 2
The artist at work (above) earlier this year on a 9' x 25' canvas bound for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver. Visit the website here.  NB Michael Paglia wrote an essay for the Chronicle book on the artist coining the phrase 'Flamboyant Formalism'. 



Four Seasons in a Life said...

As I look at the wall of sketches, I am reminded of my own digital drawings, about 750 ideas that were narrowed down to eight paintings.

Yet as I take a closer look at Rex's work and see the late 50 and 60's modernized, there is the whimsical play, the interaction of shapes and colours.

Of the pieces featured here, I am drawn to the last one. Not that we need to interpret what we see, but the first though that came to mind was a wall of different note paper with no messages.

Thank you for sharing and making us aware of this artists work.


Sophie Munns said...

Thanks for your comment Egmont...and the follow-up message that you had not read the story before commenting and were pleased to learn more of this artist.Its prompted me to add some thoughts here;

There is a work of his titled 'ISIDIA' that I did not find an image to post unfortunately- its 76" x 76" and it has a background of layered vertical ellipses that, even colourwise, is similar to work I was doing in 2003-4 that was in part responding to micro world imagery. It was this image in particular, one of his larger more complex works on canvas/linen which made me look more carefully and consider what the artist was doing that did indeed feel like he was breaking ground.

I didn't speak at length in the post on why his work spoke to me. I noticed Michael Paglia's Essay in the book touches on things I recognise...he speaks of Rex Ray's lifelong interest in the pursuit of beauty, and his open desire to have people like his work.
When the book came onto the shelves in 2007 it still felt a little radical to be presenting a visual language that could be said to be decorative, pleasing to the eye, concerned with beauty in colour and form and not apologetic for this. Not using laborious text to pretend otherwise.
I had read the brilliant and 2 volume biography on Matisse by Hilary Spurling where she described at extraordinary length the years Matisse was railed against for his "decorative" work and concern with notions of beauty.
I find it interesting and paradoxical indeed that it can take people of considerable gravitas to concern themselves with such matters.This paradox is worth thinking awhile on.
The pieces of my own work that have some kinship with the work of this artist were incidently born out of waves of loss and disruption, far more insistent losses than I'd (foolishly) imagined I would need to be ready to encounter and live with and through. All this served to push the need for a more awakened, transcendant visual language in my art practice. I was completely uninterested in external 'Contemporary Art' preoccupations even though I was looking at Art, visiting galleries, reading excellent biographies and such...but I was indifferent to the fashionable tendencies and preoccupations in contemporary art...personal concerns and interests were just so much more compelling, and more to the point, inwardly necessary.
Having visited both of your blogs Egmont I am aware of your significant attention to the deeper strata of being and the ideas and things that matter most. This knowledge allows me to respond fully here ...aware of your capacity for thoughtful engagement.
Thankyou for prompting the additional thoughts!

Deborah Barlow said...

Sophie, I only knew of Rex's work peripherally. Thank you so much for bringing him into focus for me.

janis said... prolific!

Sophie Munns said...

Thanks for visiting Deborah.
When our attention is so saturated with 'more' everything and an artist like Rex Ray comes along with work that seems to defy certain rules from the Art World that reek of credibility it can take a little digging!
I appreciate your comment here!

Hello Janis,
lovely to see you have visited too. Do you know much of this artist...being from around San Francisco?