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.
"Years ago I would see something beautiful, and I would make a drawing of it… Then I would bring it to the studio and tack it to the wall and make a larger painting from it. Now I am dealing more with abstract thoughts and abstract emotions. It's more challenging."
—Cleve Gray, 1998
Raqia is one of Cleve Gray's late free-flowing abstract works. In the 1990s he probed themes that he had previously explored in a number of artistic endeavors. The title itself is a Hebrew term signifying an extended surface or expanse; alternatively, it can mean "the vault of heaven." Inspired by Chinese and Japanese calligraphy-Zen painting in particular, to which he was introduced as an undergraduate at Princeton-Gray has created in Raqia a work that closely resembles Asian landscape paintings rendered in ink. His unerring compositional sense is clearly present, as Raqia is intuitively and rhythmically balanced. His abstract shapes create a pattern that bears a resemblance to rocks and hills. Gray often employed opposing color combinations, as he does here with bright red and navy-black. The sublety Gray has 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. This contemporary landscape is really a modern day version of early Asian landscape. Gray, a member of the New York School, 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.