Ray was born in 1948 in Sacramento. His mother noticed his talent at an early age. His father was a painter of some prominence who died in 2002. It is not known how much time Ray spent with his father, but he does have some memories of visiting his father at his studio. Ray did not receive any formal arts training except for a few classes at Sacramento High School where he graduated in 1968 at the age of twenty; after this he held down a few small jobs. He enjoyed taking the bus to visit the Crocker Art Museum when he could. After several hallucinatory episodes the same year he voluntarily admitted himself to De Witt State Hospital and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was released as a young adult and enrolled in the Short Center in 1981, at this time the only Short Center program (now called Short Center North). Ray has attended the Short Center South since its founding in 1993 and has studied under Mark Knott, Mary Stoschke, and Pat Wood, respectively.
Ray’s early work at SCS consists of many vivid horizontal acrylic paintings of life on the margins of society, from jail interiors and their lonely captives (Lloyd Lord Pray) to seedy bars and their patrons (Another Night at Lloyds, Smoking Woman, and many others). After program Ray would (and still does) wander around town, taking mental pictures of life that would later become the subjects of his art. A large man of few words and a gentle spirit, Ray was able to become an observer of a world that is not welcoming to outsiders. Mysterious women in fishnet stockings and dark glasses and down and out men in pork pie hats with cigarettes dangling on their lips are familiar characters in his work. Cracked plaster, bare light bulbs, bottles of alcohol, money, and cigarette butts all have a place in these paintings; so do a lone window or partially opened door, (usually with someone peering out from behind) which give us the only link to the outside world. Studying these paintings they start to look familiar – the architectural space is portioned similarly, perhaps these are places Ray regularly observed. Ray doesn’t let on about the people or places in his art – he will give a vague answer when asked of their identities, or simply will say nothing. The name “Lloyd” pops up quite a bit. The legend has it that this was a childhood friend of Ray’s, an artist also, who would sometime sell Ray’s work, giving Ray occasional spending money.
Orange and yellow pop out of his color palette and play against smoldering blues and grays. Curiously red is almost completely absent from these works. His fluid brush strokes are painted with an immediacy and an honesty that they rival the finest expressionist paintings hanging in museums, and give his work such a strong sense of rhythm that one can’t help but to be swept up in the moment that these scenes reveal. Smoke from a cigarette floats up effortlessly in swirls of paint. Blue highlights on hair accent black hair, and green and grey shadows fluently rendered on faces provide a particular somberness. It is clear to see in viewing these works that Ray has a natural talent that goes beyond any label.
Ray’s mid-career artworks primarily consist of pen and ink over watercolor and felt pen drawings. These interiors seem to be of more personal spaces as if we are peeking into someone’s home. Mirrors become prominent in these works, providing another way to view the space and the people who exist in it, evoking the work of Velasquez, Van Eyck, and Picasso. They also function as another exit point when a door is not present (black and white). Another vehicle he uses to manipulate space during this period is the splintering of the image, usually into two or three areas (Two Scenes in Black and White, Money on the Table), or sometimes into many (Scenes of an Interior). Although this fragmenting is evident in his earlier horizontal work, it is much more present in these later paintings. His spatial sense really shows his inventiveness in Sunset, allowing for yellow-orange watercolor sky to swallow the preciseness of a crisp ink line rooftop, and always giving the viewer a window to become a voyeur of (or to escape from), creating yet another spatial dimension in the process.
Ray also is inspired by the exterior world at this time, working from memory or from maps, which are one of the few items that he will actually buy. Views of the rice fields and the Sacramento downtown horizon off of interstate 80, or the I street bridge as viewed from Interstate 5 portray a liveliness with a selective color palette and just enough brush strokes. Ray’s love of maps is evident in paintings of other places (Interior with a view of the Twin Towers), imagined renderings of far away scenes.
After years of primarily drawing Ray returned to painting in 2010. Many of these works are on small canvasses, with subject matter primarily of portraits and of nighttime scenes. He creates with a darker jewel tone palette that evokes a feel of mystery. Brushstrokes become more urgent and expressive, however, even in the most primal gestures one can still make out some of Ray’s familiar subject matter – a window, a door, a woman, and a table (View of an Interior at Night). Creating emotion in a 10” x 10” canvas is not an easy task, but with the change of style comes a more immediate image that still carries a punch. In Person Wearing Glasses Ray’s color palette and expressionistic brush strokes meld together to give a haunting portrait. The pinnacle of these small treasures are those in which this union is evident. In Moonscape vigorous black/blue brushstrokes are interspersed with dabs of yellow and the faintest glimmer of orange – just enough of a suggestion. A reflection of the image divides the canvas and melts away into pure abstraction.
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