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Ray Kass
Trays and Tondos

Oct 13, 2005-Nov 12, 2005

Press Release | Works | Biography | Review


ZONE:Chelsea Center for the Arts is pleased to present an exhibition of more than 200 works by artist Ray Kass.  Titled "Trays and Tondos," it explores an expanded visual sensibility inspired by nature while also contextualizing elements of the artist's studio practice. The show highlights a new series of watercolor "tondo" paintings in the multi-panel format for which Kass is best known.  They are accompanied by other "paintings"--the trays and fabric scrims used in making the tondo forms--and by a group of photographs that depicts the tondos within the artist's living and working environment. Finally, a selection of ink drawings and related earlier works documents the continuity of his exploration of nature's essence.


The tondos, which are installed to cover an entire wall, are multi-paneled, rectangular paintings visually "anchored" by a circular "tondo" image. Painted with thin layers of watercolor randomly applied by means of stencils and fabric scrims onto lightly toned or "smoked" paper, they are afterwards sealed in shaved beeswax and mounted on wood panels. Their surfaces suggest a "living" interaction between the imprints of the fabric scrims and their smooth, glossy beeswax finishes.


One inescapable visual reference of the tondo form is, of course, the holistic mandala (which in his early career, Kass also painted).  But by covering an entire wall, the tondos and the subtlety precise lines of their multi-panel format, create a veritable symphony of restless visual activity, which supercedes the powerful stasis of a single circular form. The arrangement of the tondos seems organic and chance-derived, an expansive format for encouraging the rapid and intense visual exploration of their grouped presentation.


 The tondos are comprised of strict geometric shapes suspended in luminous or watery-looking spaces. They were created by layering a complex system of watercolor washes, each of which reads as a deep, natural matrix of shifting nuance, both descriptive and emblematic of nature's manifest energy. The energy that resides in these tondos, which is itself magnified by their apparent random placement on the walls, is juxtaposed to a wall-sized display of aluminum trays in which the watercolor paints were mixed. The arrangement of the trays in an orderly grid enhances the still-fluid-looking dried paint on their reflective metallic surfaces. Fully as alluring as the tondos themselves, these "painted" trays offer up their dried residue as a visual record of their roles in the creative process. The fabric scrims through which the paint was applied by means of stencils are folded like scarves on a table, like gossamer fragments of geometry in pale colors.


 Photographs showing the tondos in the artist's personal environment challenge the viewer yet again to see the circular form as a kind of oculus with the visual potential to invert or to puncture space, to claim the environment around them as part of their aura. The effect can be romantic in that it invites a greater exploration of vision. In both its form and content, this exhibition continues Ray Kass' long-standing commitment to developing a visual language that signifies--rather than pictorially represents--his essential and abiding experience of nature's transcendental energy. The installation itself is intended to de-center the painted object in favor of emphasizing its origins in the studio and its presence in the artist's environment. The result is that these works, in visually compelling ways, "push" energy back at the viewer to trigger an expanded meaning for the "visual in context." As Donald Kuspit once wrote, Kass' work is "perpetually transitional," exploring and revealing, on this occasion the possibility of an expanded visual sensibility.


1. Donald B. Kuspit, "Ray Kass: Images of the Winged Earth," exhibition essay, Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, VA, 1993.


ENDNOTE: A dynamic inspiration for Kass' "perpetually transitional" work has been the Mountain Lake Symposium and Workshop.  The Symposium, which he founded with Donald Kuspit and others in 1980, was a series of critical/theoretical conferences of invited speakers that continued twice-annually through 1990.  The Mountain Lake Workshop, which he independently initiated in the mid-1980s, is an ongoing series of interdisciplinary collaborative art projects centered in the environmental, cultural, technological, and community resources of the Appalachian region of southwestern Virginia where he lives.


Participants have included composer John Cage (1912 - 1992), who created all of his late watercolor paintings at Mountain Lake, 밢utsider/Folk artist Howard Finster (1917-2001), who produced his last major large works in the Workshop, and NYC Department of Sanitation artist-in-residence, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, whose work collaborated with microbiologists, among many other artists including Kass himself whose workshops adapt and integrate strategies related to all of the workshops. Neither Cage nor Finster thought that it mattered "who held the brush" and their workshops provided a model for the unique collaborations that followed.


 Kass initiated the interdisciplinary projects to nurture his own mid-life artistic development while creating a model for artistic collaboration that offered an alternative to conventional art production. He has invited artists to experiment in new materials or directions in their work, and has developed strategies to engage participants in discipline-centered activities somewhat similar to the practice of meditation. Without sacrificing artistic singularity in his own workshop projects, or those of the visiting workshop artists, the projects have been designed to favor the opportunity for a broad, in-depth collaboration. Kass has enabled those around him to take an active and critical role in the production of artworks meaningfully centered in local resources.

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