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
Red Landscape #2, 1994 is one of Cleve Gray's late free-flowing abstract works begun 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 to which he was introduced while an undergraduate at Princeton University, Gray has created in our example a work that closely resembles Asian inspired landscape paintings. The unerring compositional sense of this Asian-inspired artist is clearly present in our picture which is intuitively balanced within a rhythmic spacing of forms and shapes. Gray evokes the aura of a landscape through his use of earthen colors in abstract shapes, creating a pattern that bears a resemblance to rocks and hills. Gray often employed opposing color combinations: transparent with opaque ones, bright with dim shades, and light with dark pigments. Here Gray employs reds and yellows carefully articulated with black lines that seem to suggest peaks or mountains in a definite landscape design. 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 work. Distilling the essence of nature into this work, Gray brings an Asian sensitivity to the New York School of abstraction. 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.