Rex Ray’s work is everywhere. Even when you’re unfamiliar with his name yet, chances are that you have seen his art on posters, record covers, fabrics and accessories. Ray’s appearance is unmistakable — and it’s hard not to fall in love with his vibrant and psychedelic-like work. The bright tones and lively nature of his pieces have a special and imaginative undertone which Ray was bringing to his artwork since he was rather young. “I knew I needed to become an artist when I was 11,” Ray says. “I think a lot of children have that urge. It is only a matter of if you can sustain it into maturity.”
Affordable versions of his artwork have always been important to him, and in 2011 he launched Rex Ray Studio and R2 Lab to produce stationery, home décor products and much more.
The art pieces in this story are gallery samples of Ray’s work.
Art Is for Everyone
Ray has always believed commercial artwork often display the same level of talent since museum-quality good art. “I fell right into a loony set of Marxist, intellectual gays at Colorado in the 1970s,” Ray says, laughing. “They had a very democratic method of art, where they believed that all art forms were the same. Fine was just as good as commercial.” When Ray attended the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1980s, his view was legitimized under teachers Angela Davis and Ray Mondini. To him, art wasn’t about who had been looking at it, it was about how it had been making people feel.
This bit:”Untitled 3562″
Music as Inspiration
After graduating, Ray started a freelance graphic design firm and worked for music, literary and art groups all around the city. Much of his first work comprised flyers for nightclubs and bands. “Odds are, if you went to any San Francisco nightclub from the’80s, then you noticed some of my work,” he states.
Ray had always been fascinated with record covers. In high school, he made his own photo sleeves for his 45s employing a camera, his own art, and a Xerox machine. “I’ve really carried the speech of graphic arts with me,” he states.
This bit: “Delcon”
Since Ray racked up clients like City Lights Bookstore and Bill Graham Presents, his company grew, and his work was everywhere. “Originally, I had been prepared to forfeit high cover for imaginative freedom,” he states. “However, as I became more well known, there were more restrictions in my work.” As his clients became more prestigious, he found that he was working with more marketing firms, and the requirements were getting more specific.
In 1997, Ray started doing package designs for David Bowie. It was exhausting — and thrilling. “I sort of guessed that was my pinnacle from the audio world,” he states.
This bit: “Opaliane”
Creating Art Only for Himself
At the point, however, Ray started looking for a means to escape from graphic design. “I had been getting so frustrated with so many hands in my work,” he states. “You emotionally internalize this criticism. When you’re an artist, then you become your own worst enemy in this sense. I truly needed to just get back to fundamentals and indulge in simple creativity.”
This bit: “Lasallia”
While he was still grinding away at his graphic design day job, Ray started working on collages at night. He’d cut out large images with a great deal of white space from hoarded W and Rolling Stone magazines and paste them together. “It was very liberating to do this purely for myself,” he states. “It was all about the process rather than the final piece. I would let them dry, put them in a drawer and didn’t really look at them again.”
This bit: “Untitled 0797”
Pretty soon, he’d countless collages piled up. On a whim, he put them all up on a wall at his San Francisco attic, which gave him a sort of revelation. “All of a sudden I realized that others might actually like these,” Ray says. “It was just like I’d invented a speech, and it was time to tell a story with it.”
This collagelike design is among the things Ray is famous for today. His vibrant and graphic pieces can easily be understood and loved by people with a variety of styles and tastes.
This bit: “Untitled 0032”
Bringing His Function into Home Design
While much of Ray’s work was exhibited in galleries and museums nationwide, he wished to implement his view that art is for everybody. “I didn’t want to simply do museum-like artwork. This was artwork for individuals,” Ray says. “I needed people to buy it off the wall and hang it in their home — no frame ”
This bit: “Pleopcialis”
When Metropolitan Home did a feature on Ray’s home, designer Jonathan Adler saw the piece. After falling in love with all the collages, he called Ray up to market originals in his store. Although Ray had licensed his work out before, this was a foray into a completely different kind of work. It was the launch pad for a lot more collaborations.
This bit: “Cirrosa”
“What has been appeal to me about licensing is that this notion of having my work out there, of having everybody get to see it,” says Ray. “Working with various companies permits people to get my work who may not be able to afford one of my paintings.”
This bit: “Dabinett”
The Future of Rex Ray Studio
Regardless of his deeply held conviction on the democratization of art, Ray, like many other artists now, still worries about his journey back to commercial art. “I am still very torn about licensing,” he states. “It is a big experiment for me.”
Rex Ray DODOcase to get iPad2 – $89.95
Today, Rex Ray Studio and R2 Lab continue to attract Ray’s diverse and vibrant work into the home. From stationery to iPad cases, messenger bags and a new line of shopping bags with Blue Q, Ray’s work has made the leap from your museum wall to the normal home.
This iPad2 case from DODOCase is a great way to get Ray’s work into your own hands. Bold and abstract, the case is made from black Moroccan fabric and is bound with conventional book-binding techniques.
Blik Wall Decals: Vibrant Velocity by Rex Ray – $50
Ray’s cooperation on Blik wall stickers was especially popular. If you would like to find some of Ray’s work on your walls, then this is a clever and customizable option. “I love making the work,” he states. “That’s my joy. I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate.”
Rex Ray’s work has been included at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Jose Museum of Modern Art, the Crocker Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. Find more home décor goods at RexRay.com.