Fay Ray – Image, Idol, Double @Louis B. James

JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 black and white photocollages, generally framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the two room gallery space. All of the works were made in 2016, from archival inkjet prints, polyvinyl acetate, and fiber based archival adhesive. The works are sized either 22×17, 37×29, or 60×86 (this larger work is shown unframed and pinned directly to the wall), and all are unique. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Photocollage, at its definitional essence, is an exercise in the simple combination of photographs. And for the vast majority of its practitioners over the history of photography, that meticulous process of putting images together has fundamentally been rooted in inventive juxtaposition, where the clash and contrast of recognizable imagery has been used to create unlikely resonance and dissonance. Photocollage was warmly embraced by both the Dadaists and the Surrealists (it is among the best techniques available for creating inexplicable weirdness and visual oddity), and has since been revived again and again (in both analog and digital forms) by those wanting to stretch the boundaries of the medium. For those interested in recombination and connection, and for those with a wry eye for the potential buried in found material, photocollage’s cut-and-paste precision opens up additional avenues for exploration beyond the traditional methods of multiple exposures/negatives.

What’s exciting about Fay Ray’s newest photocollages is that they are pushing an approach known for its clever reuse of content further and further toward all-over abstraction. Upon close inspection, her source photographs do largely document recognizable things – black beans, rice, leather, runny eggs, human skin, long hair, rocks, a woven basket, prickly cacti etc. – but her interest in these objects stays resolutely on the surface. Her high contrast images (rich in black blacks and white whites) are studies in form and texture, where patterns repeat themselves like energetic wallpapers, scale/size are indeterminate, and surfaces are valued for the details of their topologies.

When Ray finally gets to composition, her images become component shards and scraps that are woven into densely layered conglomerations. Each work grows out of handful of object types, which are then thrown into her visual blender where they are kneaded into rough loaves of multi-subject dough, like a seedy seven-grain bread. Metal chains dance with scruffy wool, grooved abalone shells get together with knuckles, paint splatters set off vegetal spears, and polka dotted fabrics mix with noses and mouths, each work seeming to shudder as if it were about to burst into an uncontrollable kaleidoscope of imagery. When hung as a group, it’s possible to trace evolutionary ideas through the successive collages, where an image shard from one work appears somewhere else, kicking off a new set of iterative associations and relationships. While some photocollages can feel crafty and improvisational, Ray’s are the just opposite – they are controlled and sophisticated, with seemingly little left to chance, their bold slashes and frenetic movement managed with deliberate care.

Part of what makes Ray’s compositions successful is that they aren’t all taking place in one flat plane – there is a sense of depth, of on-top and below-ness that creates negative space within the interactions. In one work, a smooth faced statue looms up from under a cloud of rocky orbs like a ghostly presence. In another, what looks to be a flowing haired nude is obscured by fence patterns and cut out holes, the see-through layers mixing with the geometric sheets. This thickness encourages the viewer to fall into the pictures, to keep digging as each fragment reveals yet another.

If John Stezaker’s smart two image combinations have set the recognized standard for the contemporary use of photocollage, Ray has met that challenge by staking out an entirely different playing field. Her works probe an alternate visual vocabulary, allowing frothy abstraction to reassert itself. Both artists create oscillations of representation and pure form, but Ray is infusing that core juxtapositional idea with a deeper sense of layered intensity.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 22×17 works are $2500 each, the 37×29 works are $6000 each, and the 60×86 work is $12000. Ray’s works have little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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