Carmen Aguirre, director of the Grand Bohemian Gallery at The Mansion on Forsyth Park, is passionate about showcasing local savannah artists.
During October, she will present “Organic Ephemera” by José Ray with a vernissage this Thursday, September 30 from 5 pm to 8 pm.
Aguirre first discovered Ray on social media and through his children’s books on display at Leslie Lovell’s Roots Up gallery.
Under the pseudonym José Lucio, he wrote and illustrated “Heave Ho! (2014), “Free Rain” (2017) and “Morty and the Moon” (2019) which respectively feature an earthworm, six chickens and a friendly bat; although Ray tells me he’s probably done with children’s books unless he finds an agent to help with marketing and communications with book festivals (anyone ?!)
Aguirre then attended his show at Sulfur Studios and immediately asked him to be part of the “Savannah Series” of Grand Bohemian.
Now included in his permanent stable of artists, Ray is indebted to Aguirre for regular art sales during his quarantine.
For many, his previous exhibition at the Grand Bohemian Gallery was the last we attended before the city of Savannah closed in March of last year. Over the past 18 months, Aguirre has sold his work to locals and hotel guests from out of town.
“I am incredibly grateful that this show took place. I might have been in the bread line without it! Ray jokes. In fact, the pandemic has been good for Ray in so many ways. Not only did he regularly sell work, but he and his wife Maggie – actor, singer, dancer and teacher – bought a house in the city center where he set up a spacious studio at the front of the house, focused on the producing more work, and on perfecting the sealants he uses to protect his parts when finished.
Although he was creative when he grew up in a blue collar family in Hutchinson, KS, Ray was not exposed to much of the art scene and never considered college to be his future. .
“In fact, I remember feeling like when I was a 10 or 12 year old that you had to do a job that you might not like, that breaks you physically or emotionally, you have a family, you struggle to survive. Tumors. Man, this sucks.
After high school he moved to Lawrence, KS, which he describes as “a much cooler town”, performed in bands, was around art, and finally knew he had to get out of the chore. 9-5 and find meaning.
He began taking classes at a community college in Kansas City where his teachers recognized and nurtured his artistic abilities and encouraged him to attend art school.
Now in his mid-twenties he has reviewed several and, “Having lived in the Midwest all my life, a warm climate and the coast played a big part in choosing SCAD!”
Ray graduated in Painting and Illustration in 2011.
In the following years, Ray taught children at the Scribble Art Studio and helped many students prepare portfolios of work for Garrison, Savannah Arts Academy, and SCAD.
“It was a very good job because it allowed me to reconnect with many media. I had not used colored pencils since elementary school. I had to teach these children to use chalk pastels, oil pastels, watercolors, etc. and I had to relearn everything myself.
In addition to this income, Ray took on illustration and graphic design work, did installation work, embarked on several murals (locally you can see his work in the Starland Mural Project and at 40th and Drayton next to Atwell’s Art & Frame), and continued his love affair with vinyl as a much-acclaimed local DJ. All the while, he was constantly sketching and drawing while trying to find time to work on his gallery pieces.
Ray meets me in his home studio, wearing, of course, his signature Fidel cap and cheerful smile. Incredibly young and energetic, her enthusiastic nature seems to pervade her mixed media floral paintings that feature a profusion of color, bursts of flowers – both imaginary and real – and rainbows of psychedelic patterns and shapes. .
Ray sees this work as the result of many years of doubt and experimentation.
“Even now, there are a lot of drawings and doodles in it,” he says. “Before, I used watercolor as a base, then I used ink, colored pencils, markers and gouache on top. Now I use more of a collage technique, something that has always interested me since my punk rock years in high school. I have spent a lot of time finding the best media to do my job.
He started by affixing watercolor paper to panels, then painted abstract shapes and added more and more layers of collage.
“Then I take a gesso and a palette knife to start creating textures and shapes. ”
Finally, he adds several coats of varnish to make the paint UV resistant. Gone are the high gloss finishes of his past work, replaced by a softer, more satin finish that still allows the viewer to see the intricacy of the underlying layers.
Ray explains: “My paintings are floral, but they are very drawn. I like to start with recognizable flowers, but I often get into the swing of things and just start doodling. I grew up with Saturday morning cartoons and love this early animation. Sometimes the work is more realistic and sometimes more cartoonish. As a Gemini, I like this dichotomy.
He walks his dogs through the back streets of Savannah and enjoys the abundant wild vegetation, the way things rage and twist together.
“Sometimes the paintings have a theme (similar flowers or a particular color palette) but most of them are quite spontaneous.” Ray connects them to his DJ-ing.
“I like to add more bizarre stuff to present it to people. So I can mix obscure French techno music with Madonna or Beyonce without any problem. It’s the same idea here. You can say, “Oh, look at the pretty flowers,” but I can add the weird stuff that I love – the more abstract elements, the doodles, the manic stuff everywhere. What separates my work and makes it unique are all these disparate mediums that come together.
Ray is still a DJ (catch him most Saturdays at Starland Yard, most Fridays at the Peacock Lounge and at private events), but today he’s fortunate enough to be a full-time artist.
Wife Maggie, whom he met in philosophy class at SCAD, appreciates being able to experience her creativity so intimately,
“The studio being in our house allows me to see the process of it. And I think the years he has spent working and giving back to our community are paying off. He is really well placed. He’s getting love back now.
Come share the love – and joy – by experiencing “Organic Ephemera”.
José Ray’s new work “Organic Ephemera” opens Thursday, September 30 with an artists reception from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Grand Bohemian Gallery in The Mansion on Forsyth Park. For more information, visit kesslercollection.com or call 912.721.5007 and find José Ray on Joséray.com or on Instagram @ Joséraysay