Don Gray

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The Philadelphia Inquirer:  "These emphatic works feature a greater virtuosity in paint handling than we commonly see today."
 
New Jersey Daily Record:  "His larger-than-life portraits are staggeringly good - alive with bold color and dramatic layout."
 
Art News:  "Although the concept of the 'masterpiece' seems to have gone out of style, this is a word that constantly comes to mind in confronting Gray's major works."
 
The New York Times:  "The compelling intensity of Don Gray's figures makes an immediate, striking impression, and these paintings have a tendency to dominate the gallery. A sense of close-in focus, along with a pushed-up, shallow background thrusts the viewer into the scene rather dramatically. In the still-life compositions there are multiple perspectives as well as tipped-up angles, making these canvases very effective in extending the viewer's involvement.
 Mr. Gray seems obsessed with references to history's great painters, and open art books frequently enrich content and composition."
 
The Christian Science Monitor:  "... there have been only a few (still-life) paintings (in recent years) that reflect a genuine concern for both the tradition and the challenges of this form of art.
 "Don Gray's 'Red Snapper, Cezanne and Van Gogh' is one of these. It is very large, boldly and sumptuously painted, and it commands the viewer's attention in an altogether forthright manner. It is also carefully and shrewdly composed, and it takes full advantage of each object's shape, volume, texture and color to build a thoroughly monumental image in the grand tradition of still-life painting."
 "This is the kind of picture earlier artists produced to establish their right to be called 'master.' It is a diploma piece that proves this painter's worth, and that pays tribute to two past masters of still-life, Cezanne and Van Gogh, whose paintings can be seen in the open book at the center of this composition.
 "It also is a statement directed at today's art world and its foibles and trivialities by a man who is not only a painter but a writer, an art critic, and a producer of a television program on art as well. As such, it has a point to make about artistic quality, integrity and truth, and makes it directly and well - by example rather than by painterly polemics or exhortation."
 
New Jersey Daily Record:  "He offers many exquisite still-lifes that incorporate books, small portraits and a plethora of found objects...
 "Gray's magnum opus in the show is a huge acrylic canvas called 'Still-Life with Rembrandt and Gauguin.' It is virtually covered by what seems like hundreds of forms and shapes that range from a nude female torso to a pair of gloves to a hurricane lamp to a vase to racks of clothing to books and so on. Each object vibrates against an intense red background resulting in an incredibly rich painting that is a statement of artistic virtuosity."
 
Art News:  "'Still-life with Rembrandt and Gauguin' is a 70 x 84 acrylic filled with a myriad of objects on brilliant red cloths... The Rembrandt book is open to a nude Danae so beautifully modeled that it does not conform to the surface of the page but takes on a life of its own... The Gauguin self-portrait is an allusion to Gray himself, as an artist, and the need for contact with other art as an antidote to isolation and even loneliness."
 
Art News:  "Thus Gray may be termed a symbolic realist, able to find truth or deeper meaning in simple, ordinary things -- natural, man-made, animate and inanimate -- meaning that is missed by the thoughtless surface glance and revealed only by means of the prolonged looking, or contemplation, of the artist and his emotionally charged interaction with his world."
 
The New York Times:  "Mr. Gray sometimes seems driven to fill every inch of his acrylics and pastels with active, lively forms. This can be an effective way to stimulate visual interests and heighten emotional intensity, and is particularly successful in the smaller works, such as 'Grapefruit and Peppers' and the more restrained 'Books and Cans,' with its cubistic structure underlying a bright but remarkably subtle color scheme."
 
Art News:  "... he is a master of acrylic, pastel and casein, often pushing these mediums beyond their customary limits. For example, 'Self-Portrait with Jessie and Chow-Chow', is a pastel unusual for its size and scale, brilliance of color and intensity of feeling. The male and female figures pressed together in the supercharged space suggest both the masculine and feminine sides of the artist, while a devout concentration on the physicality of things... suggests the artist's quest for 'an impossible blend of pattern and form.'"
 
Kurt Vonnegut:  "I was so stimulated and beguiled by what Don Gray said on television that I declared myself a fan of his... a lot of what he said, being so fundamental, was applicable to arts in general, including my own, which is writing. He is obsessed by the actual content of works of art, as contrasted with technical advances they may represent, and so am I.
 "I made it my business to see his paintings, which are regularly on show around New York City. He is an able and moving painter in the currently unfashionable representational mode. He can draw. It shows. He has ideas. They show.
 "... an admirable painter who can speak with more clarity about the actual content and effects of art than any critic I know."

Extended Art News Magazine Review

 "Don Gray paints the reality of everyday life with passion and seriousness. He describes himself as a responder to the stimulus of the physical world, a lover of its color, substance and solidity of form. In his still lifes and self-portraits especially, he responds to the mundane with extraordinary intensity of feeling, so that there is a constant tension between the order and control needed to create a sense of reality and the emotion of the artist responding to the world. Behind this tension there is also a keen intelligence and a thorough knowledge of the art of the past and present, a concern that is reflected in Gray's activities as an art critic, an educator and the producer-moderator of Manhattan Cable Television's "Artist and Critic," a program that has attracted such illustrious guests as critics Dore Ashton, John Gruen, Cindy Nemser and John Canaday, as well as Robert Scull, the collector of contemporary art; gallery owner Allan Frumkin; and distinguished realist painters Alice Neel, Richard Estes, Raphael Soyer and Audrey Flack.
 
 "Although the concept of the 'masterpiece' seems to have gone out of style, this is a word that constantly comes to mind in confronting Gray's major works. 'Still-life with Rembrandt and Gauguin' is a 70 x 84-inch acrylic filled with a myriad of objects on brilliant red cloths -- crockery; gloves; a stack of bread slices on a plate; piled up sardine cans; an abandoned hornets' nest; cans of tomato juice, condensed milk and olive oil; art books open to reproductions of Gauguin and Rembrandt; a hurricane lamp; and the skull of a cow, found on the grounds of the farm... where Gray now lives and works. All these objects tip forward on a hilly draped surface, while a dense screen of cloth (actually dresses hanging on a rack) pushes forward, condensing the space even more. The Rembrandt book is open to a nude Danae, so beautifully modeled that it does not conform to the surface of the page but takes on a life of its own, momentarily confounding our understanding of what is flat and what is three-dimensional in Gray's painting. The Gauguin self-portrait is an allusion to Gray himself, as an artist, and the need for contact with other art as an antidote to isolation and even loneliness.
 
 "Gray... was... brought up in Arizona. He attended Arizona State University in Tempe, where the head of the art department was then Harry Wood, who Gray credits with opening his eyes to color and the beauty of the world. Gray earned his M.A. in painting and art history at the University of Iowa, a school he decided on after passing through Iowa City and falling in love with an exhibition of works by students of the printmaker Mauricio Lasansky. After Iowa, he and his wife, the painter Jessie Benton Evans, headed for New York. For a while they lived in a walk-up near Bloomingdale's, and some of the density of the urban experience, the crowding, the plethora of material goods, has remained a part of his work...
 
 "Whether painted in the studio, on New York City streets or in the countryside... Gray's works have a riveting immediacy yet function on a symbolic level as well. In addition, he is a master of acrylic, pastel and casein, often pushing these mediums beyond their customary limits. For example, 'Self-Portrait with Jessie and Chow-Chow, 56 x 48 inches, is a pastel unusual for its size and scale, brilliance of color and intensity of feeling. The male and female figures pressed together in the supercharged space suggest both the masculine and feminine sides of the artist, while a devout concentration on the physicality of things -- for example, the V-shape of his open collar echoed by vermilion bath towels flaring outward from hooks on the wall above -- suggests the artist's quest for 'an impossible blend of pattern and form.' Three magnificent 60-by-40-inch casein paintings of sunflowers show the flowers growing vigorously in the field, blooming in the studio, then withering and dying - unflinchingly expressing a universal reality while also paying homage to van Gogh.
 
 "The sense of kinship with van Gogh (and other artists, such as Cezanne, Degas, Goya and Vermeer) is more spiritual than stylistic, and the art of the past shows up in Gray's work as a source of strength and a revelation of the artist's inner self that becomes a new kind of self-portrait. In a smaller work, Rembrandt, Rubens and Sculpted Head, details of Rembrandt's The Jewish Bride and a Rubens portrait of Helene Fourment seem to express Gray's tenderness as a husband and lover, standing guard against alternative visions of himself represented by van Gogh's self-portrait with bandaged ear and a baroque disfigured head that Gray modeled out of Iowa clay. In the monumental Still Life with Red Snapper, Cezanne and Van Gogh, a book in the upper part of the painting stands open to art reproductions behind a bowl of tomatoes near the center of a table, as if on an altar. Two fish in the foreground may be read as Christian symbols. They are surrounded by objects such as a lighted lamp, a watermelon, a bowl of fruit, elaborately curved knickknacks, and drapery with extravagant patterns that seem to bloom like flowers, all celebrations of the world of man and the world of nature. Thus Gray may be termed a symbolic realist, able to find truth or deeper meaning in simple, ordinary things -- natural, man-made, animate and inanimate -- meaning that is missed by the thoughtless surface glance and revealed only by means of the prolonged looking, or contemplation, of the artist and his emotionally charged interaction with his world."
  
 

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