Face Time with Ray Turner and his Formidable “Head Paintings”

Ray Turner’s studies of the human visage, which he modestly dubs “head paintings,” examine the spectrum of human faces in all their glorious variety. As part of his ongoing “Population” series, the California-based artist has produced hundreds of such portraits, most rendered impasto with sweeping brushstrokes and swaths of vivid color, often applied directly to sheets of glass. Now, at JoAnne Artman Gallery in New York, a new show called “Population Defaced” offers a selection of Turner’s bold, imposing portraits. 

Instead of framing the individual portraits, he affixes the glass atop an equally sized square of color painted directly onto a wall. The color swatches, which shift in tone from portrait to portrait, bleed through and saturate the unpainted areas of glass; in fact, until closer inspection, it is difficult to discern whether the background pigment is part of the portrait.

Thick though the paint may be, Turner’s impressionistic technique captures the subtleties of expression and emotion. A few of the portraits stand alone and appear in larger format, while others are presented in an alluring mosaic, unframed and collectively displayed against squares of color on a wall. Viewed collectively in this gridded arrangement, the portraits amount to something like a periodic table of expressions.

However, as the show’s title suggests, many of the faces have been disfigured by the artist. These distortions—cuts, scrapes, and blurs of color—corrupt the otherwise placid portraits and push them into a realm of grotesquerie that’s still a joy to admire.


—Grace-Yvette Gemmell


Ray Turner: Population Defaced” is on view JoAnne Artman Gallery, New York, Mar. 16–Apr. 28, 2016.

Follow JoAnne Artman Gallery on Artsy.

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