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What I learned from Rex Ray

When I began to do abstract art, I began with collage. I painted up my favorite colors on paper, cut them into assorted rectangles and began to create arrangements. I loved color, and had some idea of color harmonies, but this effort fell pretty flat for me. Nothing clicked and again I had that feeling that I often felt with my efforts at abstraction: lost.

But: seek and you shall find. It was about this time that I stumbled onto the work of Rex Ray.

Browsing the bookstore at SFMOMA, I bought this book of his very first works, made from his stack of old Rolling Stone Magazines.

The thing Rex was doing that really helped me, is that he was working with Shape. I liked his rounded potato shapes, and even better the negative shape, the rectangle with a potato shaped hole. Compared to just a rectangle, these shapes have much more character and feeling. They are fun, happy even, and this gave me something to react to that rectangles of color was not giving me.

It’s quite natural, when you are cutting up magazines, to cut specific shapes. For any given page, there is only a small part of it you want to use— so you cut a shape. Rex didn’t cut every kind of shape on the map— he focused on just a few. Good idea. Notice he uses very similar shapes for a single composition.

Rex made thousands of these, and he was really plowing new ground. Especially for people who love design. I really cannot thank him enough for his fearless exploration and the explosion of visual ideas that resulted.

Rex Ray (September 11, 1956 – February 9, 2015)

Do you use strong Shape in your work? Do you like Rex’s mid-century shapes? Has his work been an influence for you at all?

To a good week of exploration in the studio,


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