Rex Ray: Colortopia, Turner Carroll Gallery, 725 Canyon Road, 986-9800; through Sept. 29
A carnival spirit runs through Colortopia, the Rex Ray exhibit at Turner Carroll Gallery. Ray, in compositions that recall design motifs from the 1950s and ’60s, makes images for visual-pleasure junkies, full of color and quirky patterns that delight the eye. From a distance, his works look like paintings, but close inspection reveals a complex building up of materials that includes silk-screened and hand-painted cut paper and photographic elements. Colortopia features large-scale geometric abstractions and examples of a new, small series of Ray’s clown portraits.
The larger pieces in the show are nonobjective, ornamental abstractions arranged in configurations that lend them a floral, organic appearance. Ray infuses his canvases with strong kaleidoscopic graphics. Colors and shapes pop off the background. Finial and tear-shaped components appear and reappear from canvas to canvas along with other shapes that suggest spinning Ferris wheels or pinwheels as well as daisies and other blossoms. Titles such as Ossomyces and Thamnolyrica intimate a biological influence, and the forms and patterns resemble molecular structures at their most elemental. At the same time, the colors, shapes, and arrangements are retro, psychedelic, and a little mystical, with an elegant decorative sense.
The most curious aspect of Ray’s work is his blend of styles and materials. Perhaps best described as mixed-media collages, the pieces are infused with a fair amount of splatter and loose brushwork, but these don’t contrast with the collaged elements so much as complement them. Silk-screened dot patterns appear here and there, overlaid with cut-paper dots and dripped paint. The chaotic elements are often confined to a broader structure. Peer into a finial shape or a similar form — rich, variegated worlds are contained therein.
Although lost among the larger works on view, the small clown portraits are similarly composed, using a combination of printing and hand-coloring techniques. Essentially still lifes, the clown faces are photographic images with oil paint and silk-screening and are based on antique Murano glass clowns. Ray’s painting technique is gestural, and he allows the paint to run and drip, which adds to the melancholy feel of the portraits. These clowns are not sophisticated, sly Harlequins as much as simple, sad hobo types. With one exception — Senso A4 #1 — they are not sinister. Still, if you suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns), you might want to stay away.
Even if you are unfamiliar with his name, you’re probably familiar with Ray’s work. He gained an international reputation for his album-cover and poster designs as well as his work for Apple, Dreamworks, and other companies. Ray is also well known for his geometric abstractions, and most of the work in Colortopia is nothing new. The clown portraits draw interest because they’re a departure from the wild, varicolored topiary forms of the abstract pieces, but they could be shown to better effect. Stuck in a corner at the back of the room, they seem almost an afterthought. The clowns are also more painterly than the other imagery. It will be interesting to see if Ray continues with what is, apparently, a rare venture into figurative work.