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.
Gray was inspired and greatly influenced in the 1960's by fellow contemporary American Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler. As a result of these artistic influences he began to produce works which combined pure colors or non-colors as in the case of Transition no. 125 with spontaneous calligraphic gestures to create lyrical abstract compositions. Gray thus effectively has joined the ancient with the stirring contemporary American art movement of the 1950's. Transition no. 125 was painted in the late 1970's, a particularly successful and fruitful period for the artist.This picture reflected Gray's attraction to the color gray and by extension to its non-color properties and melded "non-colors" of black and white. Here the artist joined black with white and thus negotiated a confrontation of these opposites through to their eventual syntheses. Confrontations were typical and integral to Cleve Gray's works. He often employed opposing color combinations: transparent with opaque ones, light with dark pigments, and bright with dim shades. Continuing this confrontation of opposites Gray contrasted in Transition no. 125 the strong black paint in the large gestural symbol with the mat white and gray painted paper. In the end he successfully resolved these opposing forces into a harmonious composition of opposing elements and became in the final analysis the ultimate reconciler.