The persistent autumn rain had turned the streets of lower Manhattan to patent leather, slick and reflecting a maze of city lights, like slender, broken threads of yellow, red and white at my feet. With daily regularity, in late afternoon, Houston Street serves as a busy cross-island artery, draining the living city of its commuter life blood; as an endless stream of cars inches toward the Holland tunnel to the west and the Williamsburg Bridge to the east.
I dodge the gleaming fenders of creeping traffic to find my way to bridgegallery, a Lower East Side destination that has long championed the cause of emerging and established artists, alike. In her narrow studio, brightly-lit against the fading light of day, galleryist and curator, Marilyn Garber, once again offers an evening event, showcasing unique contemporary art. I am there to meet artist, Peter G. Ray (known as G-Ray), Bulgarian by birth, but for many years a Canadian citizen who splits his time between Montreal and New York City.
His gentle demeanor and Old World graciousness belie his artistic conception of a cosmic realm shaped by a rich symbolic language of gyrating protoplasmic vortices and fanciful, sexually-charged biomorphic life forms that sweep the viewer up into a vertiginous, whirlwind excursion to the edge of a universe of his own creation. The lens of G-Ray’s painterly vision is like that of the Hubble telescope turned earthward, capturing the depths of the human condition in a series of serendipitous double exposures.
His large, glossy canvases pulsate with the barely-controlled chaos of rich, complex color planes, floating planetary spheres and an ambiguous genetic soup of intra-uteral tissue forms, colliding and re-ordering themselves as though to illustrate the divinely-ordered command in Genesis verse in the moments following, “Let there be light!” Reaffirming, yet threatening, one is left to wonder, in his pre-Darwinian swirl of deep space-meets-coital life force, what supernatural organisms might ultimately spring from the “Big Bang” energy of G-Ray’s fantastic universe.
Infinity is made material in G-Ray’s paintings, like layered veils of time and distance—invisible to the eye—until dissected and pinned back, like a scientific display, to reveal the pulsating source of life that unites us all as human beings. Umbilical cords spin like tornadoes, arising from distant Nebulae, only to narrow and thread their way through a maze of protean webs. What might have been hearts , in brilliant shades of crimson, hang suspended in fields of rich black; but now bursting like exploding stars to scatter nurturing energy to the farthest corners of the canvas. A pattern of life-sustaining aureoles endlessly replicates itself across a field of other-worldly figurative elements, suggesting a vibrant reproductive energy emanating from the depths of space, itself. Objects, like outsized map pins appear to hold portions of the construct in place, as if to say, “Viewer, you are here on our celestial tour.” The source of our very own existence, our soulful humanity, G-Ray would have us believe, can be found in the energy of these distant, yet familiar, celestial forms.
G-Ray’s passion for his work is evident in our discussion. Holding a masters degree in visual arts from a prestigious university in his native Bulgaria, he was first an actor and film-maker before turning to painting. “Painting was my true calling,” he explains. “It was a means for me to express my observations of the world…and I see the world in all of its infinite detail.” His approach to a new work is both cerebral and emotional. “I watch the world and just know when I am ready to paint. I reach a tipping point when there is a critical accumulation of ideas and forms in my mind and a voice inside me just says, ‘It’s time!’ I only complete a small number of paintings each year. I see my work as expressing the relationship between cosmic energy and our own rebirth.”
Narrative in style, G-Ray’s work is, “about places”, but, his approach still works best, “when it is non-representational,” he explains. “People come to the work looking for objects they can recognize, to help them feel comfortable with what they are seeing. I invite them to go beyond the objects to the emotions. I don’t want the language of objective painting to get in the way of the feelings being conveyed. I want a pure dialogue between the painting, the artist and the viewer. When I become too concrete or figurative, the painting stops working for me.”
G-Ray is a painter’s painter, as he tries to strike a balance in his work between controlled and surprise effects. Working on the floor, pouring and mixing oils and enamels together with pigmented and clear acrylics in the style of a color-field painter, he then combines and layers his works with precisely-rendered forms and large areas of accidental color-blending and orchestrated swirls to create an emotionally-charged and energized finished piece, in the spirit of the Abstract Expressionists. Informed by Expressionists like Pollack or de Kooning and perhaps the Surrealists, G-Ray nevertheless has developed a style which is all his own and is, by his own admission, “deeply personal.” Asked if his work is autobiographical, he says, “With each new piece I create, I feel I am giving birth to a new life form. I sometimes see myself in my work, but mostly, it is about creating something totally different through the use of paint. I am trying to create a whole new vocabulary of painting.”
The work on display at bridgegallery evidences his success in doing so.
by Richard Friswell, Editor-in-Chief
Paintings by Peter G. Ray
‘The Rising Tension of Inescapable Desire’
Now, through January, 2010
98 Orchard Street (between Broome & Delancey Sts.)
New York, NY 10002