By Thea Halo
Hanging in the window at the entrance of the Broome Street Gallery was Ray Grist’s most striking painting of his New York exhibition. A series of vertical and horizontal lines, curves, dots and solid forms, dance on a ground of charcoal grays and sexy midnight reds. I am tempted to call this painting a written still life … a still life whose subject is perhaps his emotional response to the literal forms from which they are created or imagined, rather than the depiction of the literal forms themselves. A luminous red vertical line, almost in the form of the letter "w" wriggles on a block of pale gray on the left, while a lemon-yellow "J" teases across the canvas on the right, adding to the sense that this still life comes with its own commentary by the painter… a commentary one must absorb through one’s senses in much the way the artist expressed it through his. Although the backdrop colors, such as the royal blues or burnt umbers, are more somber, Ray Grist’s painting has a sense of joy. Its somber caverns and crevices serve as a background from which the other colors shout or laugh. There is an honesty about the positioning and colors of these elements, and a movement that adds to the feeling of a running dialog, rather than an emphatic statement… an open ended dialogue like a playful debate with itself … a debate which is far from over. In fact, I can imagine this painting continuing in a long stream of consciousness beyond the given plane, unconcerned that the artist has run out of canvas. It has spun off from the artist and continues with a life of its own, like Pygmalion's startling creation leaping from her pedestal.
Entering the gallery on opening night, I was greeted by a throng of smiling faces, sprinkled here and there with persons of renown. But one’s eye is quickly drawn away from the crowd to the seductive primary colors, embedded in those more murky grounds of Ray Grist’s continuing dialog of paint on paper, or paint on canvas.
In a piece called “Parade” I can almost hear the music of the Can Can as lusty ladies flip their frilly black frocks to expose red banded ankles. But again, the forms are merely suggested, with nothing so overt or mundane as a face or well defined figures to help the viewer grasp an easy cliché. The life and movement of these pieces compels one to feel what Grist felt when he put brush to canvas, forcing the images to appear through the use of other, more ethereal senses.
Thea Halo is a painter and author of the acclaimed book, “Not Even My Name.”
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