Gallery 16 is honored to represent the Rex Ray Estate and is pleased to announce Rex Ray at Gallery 16—a retrospective of the late artist’s work spanning twenty years (1996–2015) of his prolific career. This will be the first retrospective devoted to Rex Ray since his untimely death in 2015. The exhibition presents over 70 Rex Ray artworks, including his epic collection of paper collage titled “Wall Of Sound,” as well as never before displayed work including large scale canvases, prints and collage. Coinciding with the exhibition, Gallery 16 will release Rex Ray: We Are All Made Of Light, a new monograph that celebrates and chronicles the artist’s career, and SFMOMA will present a selection of Ray’s work in conversation with Paul Klee’s work from their permanent collection.
Rex Ray (1956–2015) was a beloved San Francisco artist and designer recognized worldwide for his distinct graphic compositions, saturated colors and unapologetic devotion to beauty. His art was widely viewed as an accessible link to the pop and modernist aesthetic although his work referenced a variety of influences—including the Arts and Crafts movement, Fluxus, Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism, organic and hard-edged abstraction, pattern and textile design, and Op Art. This democratic confluence of influences spoke to multiple audiences and certainly helps account for his widespread popularity.
Ray’s meticulous collage process grew out of the simple pleasure of cutting shapes from magazines (often his own commercial work) in which he reassembled and layered paper onto wet canvases. Contrary to the precise and graphic nature of his work―Ray’s technique was actually quick, spontaneous and intuitive. In his early career he made his mark with iconic designs for the Bay Area political, gay and literary communities, but began to develop his studio practice as a means to reconcile complicated feelings about his commercial work, however continued to pursue commercial design and a studio practice over the course of his life. This retrospective positions Ray as a pivotal figure in the context of seamlessly traversing between the fine and commercial art divide, and one whose prolific practice embraced a Warholian sensibility.
Showcased in the exhibition is the “Wall Of Sound,” a single piece comprised of over 500 cut paper collage on small sheets, which are hung end-to-end in what is called library style. The piece debuted at Bay Area Now 2 in 1999 and was an ongoing project that grew in size between 1996 and 2004. The exhibition will also feature never before displayed work including large scale canvases, prints and collage. Rex Ray will be the seventh solo exhibition of the artist’s work at Gallery 16 since 1995. Of the close working relationship and friendship with the artist for more than 20 years, Gallery 16 founder Griff Williams says:
"He invented a way of working as an artist that was singularly his own. How many of us can say that? How many of us can ignore our critics and truly follow our own particular sensibility? Rex did that every day. Not without self-doubt—he had that for sure. Not without failure—he was frank about his failures as well. But he lived his life and made his work guided by his determination, focus, and grace. His exuberant canvases were so singularly his, made by a collage technique developed through trial and error over decades of constant work with the goal of describing his own particular sense of beauty. It just so happens that many thousands of others found that it was their sense of beauty as well."