Cleve Gray created works that contained fields of color applied with such varied unconventional techniques as pouring, staining, and sponging paint onto the surface of his canvases. Next he added certain gestural marks that had their root source in Chinese calligraphy and other ancient archaeological signs which can be seen in many of his works.Gray was inspired and greatly influenced in the 1960's by such fellow contemporary American abstract expressionist artists as Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler. As a result of these artistic influences he began to produce large paintings which combined expanses of pure color and spontaneous calligraphic gestures to create lyrical abstract compositions. The American artist and iconic gallery owner Betty Parsons described Gray as "a painter who jumped the romantic fence into an ancient field of signs and symbols."
Over the course of an artistic career that spanned more than fifty years Cleve Gray produced a prodigious, varied, and inspiring body of work that bears testimony to a brilliant mind that continuously challenged his own creative processes as well as the world around him. In many ways Gray was literally "born to paint". Fascinated with color at age six he won a prize for a watercolor of his mother seated at the piano in the living room of their two floor apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan. Following graduation from Phillips Andover Academy Gray was initially bent on studying art in Europe but chose instead to attend Princeton University at the request of his father. At Princeton the young artist studied history of art and philosophy and was first exposed to the abstract expressionist movement as well as to both Chinese and Japanese art. All these disciplines would have a profound effect on the young artist and his later work. Gray graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Princeton; his thesis on Yuan Dynasty landscape painting is used as a teaching tool even to this day.
"For so many years I was trying to do the simplest painting I could do. I wanted to make an artwork with one line. One brush line going across in space. Extremely minimal…A meandering line made with one movement across a void a line that, like the titles, was quite ambivalent to its imagery."
Considering All Possible Worlds #24, 1992 is one of Cleve Gray's late free-flowing abstract works, part of his series of the same name. Gray began this series in the 1990's which probed various themes that he had previously explored over a number of artistic works and endeavors. Inspired by Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and in particular Zen painting, Gray's gestures do not relate to anything in particular. It can be said that he created "pure paintings". In our example from this series a long sinuous red line bisects a brilliant blue field of color, a stellar contrast of primary colors of red and blue. Gray often employed opposing color combinations: transparent with opaque ones, bright with dim shades, and light with dark pigments. There is a resulting movement and vitality to the work as the red paint arcs, cuts, and rolls across the canvas. Gray has thus contrasted the labor-intensive layering of the canvas with the expressionist forms created more spontaneously in contrasting colors. The whirling, spinning, weaving motion of this line has become in this work the axis upon which the elegant calligraphic forms revolve. The raw energy Gray employed in creating this work coupled with the meticulous intellectual planning that preceded its actual execution has resulted in a complex yet gracefully harmonious work. Throughout all his works Gray celebrated life and all that life has to offer. A youthful exuberance and gusto pervades the work, a joyfulness that buoys the composition and "flies in the face" of Gray's age at the time of the execution of this work: it is a work that shows Cleve Gray at his best. Gray was inspired and greatly influenced in the 1960's by such fellow contemporary American abstract expressionist artists as Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and Helen Frankenthaler. The American artist and iconic gallery owner Betty Parsons once described Gray as "a painter who jumped the romantic fence into an ancient field of signs and symbols." Gray was actively working on monumental canvases at the age of 86 until the very end of his life and succeeded in both combining and blending elements of the ancient with influences from the contemporary American art movement of the 1950's.
Ameringer Yohe Fine Art, New York (label verso)
Irving Galleries, Palm Beach (label verso)
McClain Gallery, Houston (label verso)