Friday, August 27, 2010


... plus c'est la meme chose, the French saying goes. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Having made a couple of posts, in the past few days, about religious intolerance and skewed social values (see "The Mosque" and "Christians,") I was reminded yesterday with a jolt, in an artist's studio, that we were debating the same issues fifty years ago.

I'll be showing you pictures to prove my point, but for the moment let's talk about my studio visit. Since I have no permission to use the artist's name, I choose not to mention it. (Note: I have since spoken to him and, with his permission, can identify him as G. Ray Kerciu!) I have known G. Ray/of him for a number of years, but it was not until last week, when we ran into each other at a local cafe, that I suggested further acquaintance. We traded a few missed calls in the days that followed, but finally managed to get together and arranged the date. I drove up to his studio yesterday afternoon.

Quite a drive. G. Ray lives way up in the hills, overlooking the entire city of Laguna Beach and a vast vista of the Pacific Ocean. He greeted me on the steps and led me into the garage that stands in for his "gallery," where he hangs a couple of dozen recent paintings on the white walls that surround the parked vehicles. The paintings, neatly arranged in rows and in identical scale, are accomplished work; landscape abstractions (or abstract landscapes!) for the most part, they are done in thickly textured acrylics whose surfaces swirl with gleaming, even pearlescent color. The painted surfaces are sometimes layered in construction, with window-like rectangular cut-outs creating set-backs that invite the eye to explore the inner depths as well as the surface of the painting. G. Ray has been working with two- and three-dimensional artifacts for many years, and the experience shows. There's a confident ease about the work that makes it clear he knows what he's doing and is passionate in doing it.

It has to be passion that drives him. Like so many of his peers, G. Ray has limited opportunity to show his work these days. Down in his studio, where he is working now on some new impressive, three-dimensional investigations of the ancient obelisk form, we talk about Egypt, art history, his days as a teacher and sometime head of a significant university art department and, yes, the art world... I learn about what he describes, wryly, as his "fifteen minutes of fame," when he was teaching, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, at the University of Mississippi and was witness to the moment when Bobby Kennedy arrived with the National Guard to escort James Meredith, the first back student on the campus, to register for classes; and when he, the artist, achieved sudden fame for paintings that dared to address the social issues of the day--a huge American flag, he recalls, for example, boldly graffiti'ed with the racist comments he would hear all around him on the campus.

His fifteen minutes led him to the dizzy heights of an exhibit at the noted Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, its opening attended by all the notables of the day--Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, the whole gang of them; and reviews and articles in Time magazine and all the art journals. He was the hero of the day... for a day or two.

Since then, as evidenced by the sheer quantity and diversity of work that hangs everywhere at his house, G. Ray has persisted, as artists do, out of passion and because that--as I like to say--is what he is given to do. He tells me that he is content to keep working in his studio, now that he is retired from the teaching profession, and that he can well do without the other part--the galleries, the exhibitions, the sales. Still, I see the profusion of his work and I feel a certain sadness about the fact that it is not seen outside the studio. It has always been my contention that all creative work is an act of communication, a way of showing ourselves to the world, of being "in touch"; and that it needs that other part, the recipient, the responsive party, in order to complete its own intention. Hung up against the walls or stacked and heaped in corners, it feels, well... lonely. I want it to be out there, seen, appreciated, doing the work it was made to do with the eyes of those who look at it.

As for pictures of G. Ray's work... perhaps another time. I'd like to see it on the walls of a gallery one day. But I did promise you a glimpse of his early work, from the early 1960s, nearly fifty years ago, with its sad reminder that things have still not changed as, back then, we might have hoped they would. The pictures were taken unprofessionally, on my cell phone, but with the artist's permission. I append them here without further commentary, but with the hope that they'll be seen in the context of those earlier entries that I mentioned. Here they are:

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