Leo Ray was Born in 1950, in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Graduated from Vilnius University and Vilnius Academy of Arts.
Since 1991 lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Active in painting, graphics, and small-scale sculpture.
Head of the faculty of painting at BASIS School of Sculpture.
WORKS IN PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
Vilnius Museum of Arts, Lithuania.
Kaunas Museum of Literature, Lithuania.
Telsiai City Museum, Lithuania.
Naisiai Medal Museum, Lithuania.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Zagreb Museum of Arts, Croatia.
Baltchik City Gallery, Bulgaria.
Grafikens Hus, Mariefred, Sweden.
Moscow Vuchetich Sculpture Funds, Russia.
.Florean Museum, Baia Mare, Romania
The Municipal Art Gallery, Raanana, Israel.
The Museum of Israeli Art, Ramat Gan, Israel.
Ein Harod Museum, Israel.
PRIZES AND AWARDS
1986 – The Baltic Triennial of Medal Art – The Jury Diploma.
1987 – The Lithuanian Triennial of Medal Art – The Jury Prize.
2000 – The International Small Engraving Salon, Baia Mare, The Jury 1-st prize.
MEIR AHARONSON WROTE ABOUT LEO RAY
Ray is an artist who creates letters of various sorts, deflections and sizes for himself. Leo Ray’s studio is planted in the midst of an industrial area in the south of Tel-Aviv. On the second floor, above a garage where different vehicles are repaired, Leo Ray tells stories of another world.
Visiting Leo Ray’s studio is taking a journey into an earlier times’ kind of studio – a small place with paint odors in the air, all in a state of disorder the likes of which cannot be found in younger artists’ studios, many of which are also located in industrial zones yet sometimes seem as meticulous as pharmacies, as it were. By the way, sometimes while visiting a young artists’ studio this sense of cleanliness may give rise to some questions. The first encounter with the mass of canvases at the studio is overwhelming. It engulfs you all around and appeals to all senses constituting a single composite experience, a multitude of colors and shapes. To a visitor at the studio, the paintings may seem, at first, like cheerful children’s drawings but upon reexamining them more thoroughly, it turns out they are not all that cheerful and that the paint is just paint, concealing the real picture like make up.
If Leo Ray was a writer, he would probably have used a limited number of letters, those that exist in each and every language, from which he would have constructed numerous words. But Ray is not a writer. He is an artist who creates letters of various sorts, deflections and sizes for himself, to write what has to be written with.
One should remember Leo Ray is a painter.
Leo Ray’s paintings form two groups. The first group consists of conventional rectangular shaped canvases. The second group consists of large works formed by canvases of various sizes assembled into one piece, creating a structure of a virtually indefinable shape. Those shapes are actually complex sentences conveying a complete message.
The paintings I picked out for the exhibition at the Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat Gan are large paintings that comprise several canvases that are put together in a structure of undefinable form. Each canvas is painted in a way that can only be comprehended when assembled with the other canvases forming the painting.
As in any other language, the syntax Leo Ray uses is modern and temporary. An alternative was found for the written word, that which is made up of letters: the icon – that little symbol which includes a graphic figure that stands for a whole array of actions or information, a thousand written words traded for a single sign. Seemingly, the icon is a way of writing and conveying information, invented to accommodate the needs of the virtual world where life exists on screen, but actually it is not a new language, a young people’s language, a language in which the intricacies of syntax are abstracted to uncompromising directness. Signs and icons have always been used. Traffic signs, saints’ halos in Christian paintings, the dove heralding that the water had receded, these are all primal icons. The modern technology, the fast pace of life and the evolvement of language have caused the icon to assume a place and importance that go beyond its past uses, and correspondingly it has assumed more complex significances and layouts. One of the most important aspects of Leo Ray’s work is the proliferation. Placed side by side on one canvas, are many images, icons as I would have it, derived from various sources, some from private associative ones, and some are quotations from the history of art, pulled out of their usual contexts and assigned new meanings Ray uses for his writing. The truth is that Ray’s so called writing is associative, a writing that poses as a narrative and a story that poses as a painting. He distorts the shapes and the painted figures to the extent of caricaturizing them, yet besides the external humor, he puts in underlying strata of seriousness. Eventually, once the work of art has been created, the impression perceived is that of a huge computer screen on which are scattered, as if at random, icons indicating the various functions concealed behind it.
But icons also enfold another level of memory. The icon’s figure is usually a familiar one. It is a simplification of a complicated figure, which may be taken out of the realm of culture, or the world of simple activities. And sometimes plainly written words of a known language are written in the figure or beside it. The icon is necessary chiefly for widespread communication with extensive audiences and for overcoming barriers of language. A German, an American or an Israeli person, as well as an Indian, Saudi Arabian or an Indonesian one may read and interpret the icon despite being strictly monolingual.
In this infinite world of icons, Leo Ray manufactures his own private line of icons emerging mainly from western cultures and traditions. The renowned good old master works are not just artistically paraphrased. In his own special way, he turns them into symbols that portray a tradition and a statement.
Language, as a rule, is not just a collection of words. Language is, and maybe for the most part, a world of concepts and associative linkages. For many years now I have been claiming that language is, in fact, a special kind of “cultural digestive juice”. The ability to translate private and collective situations into words is not just the complexity and diversity of language in to which they are translated. Language, and in abstract matters even more so, is an elaborate system of concepts, the depth and understanding of which depend mostly on the cultural background of the writer and that of the reader. Perhaps it is easier to explain this by using examples from familiar spoken languages, but for plastic art, which I and many others perceive as language, these assertions hold too. From all the above, the possibility of assimilating the two languages into a new, personal and unique one of his own, had emerged. This does not imply that in his homeland Ray had been painting in the traditional socialist manner one may envision when thinking of the Soviet Union of those days, and that upon arrival in Israel he suddenly started seeking shapes that looked temporary or western. No, already in his native country he was attuned and conscious of western culture and of the painting erroneously called western. In fact, since his graduation from the Academy of Art in Vilnius and until this very day he has been developing a personal form of writing in a painstaking process of elaboration and testing. But still, the difference between artistic processes here and in eastern European academic tradition cannot be ignored. This tradition delves deeper into fields that are generally disregarded in western European art schools. The eastern European avant-garde has always been shrouded by academic study.
Leo Ray’s range of colors is based mainly on the primary colors. The juncture and contrast create a tension that allows viewers to see beyond the depicted figure. All this not withstanding, there are some monochromatic works in Leo Ray’s repertory in which abstract letter-like signs, resembling traditional calligraphy, array. The interest in calligraphic art began when he studied it under professor Gurskas at the Vilnius Academy. The influence of European calligraphy, in which the Japanese calligraphy also bears its mark, is most evident in Ray’s black and white drawings.
Contemplating Leo Ray’s corpus of work reveals the close connection he maintains between life and art. His figurative ensembles do not deal with simple life but chiefly with personal life experiences which bear impact on the art works he produces. The circumstances of Ray’s life in Israel, the pining for a different landscape, a different climate and even a different language, make him find the banal interesting. Sometimes the feeling one gets, observing and reading his work, shows how much the small wishes are in effect the total sum of will. And sometimes, all though discretely, provinciality and locality combined, force him to create a different world altogether.
Visiting the studio and talking to Ray made choosing the paintings for the exhibition much harder. Out of the variety of works I chose to present Ray’s large paintings, paintings that consist of several canvases each in complex and changing forms. These paintings fully realize the iconic perception of Ray’s art. From these works one may also learn about the special character and unique private syntax Ray constructs while narrating an elaborate narrative. A story that despite not being as descriptive as traditional paintings usually are, enfolds a sophisticated piece of craftsmanship that lets the viewer dive into the depths of a complex language which business is, as that of all languages, the conveyance of stories. In addition, I have picked out a set of smaller works, mainly drawings, in which, it seems to me, Ray condenses the story into its point of focus. These are two modes of storytelling pursued by the same artist.