Rex Ray is a San Francisco-based fine artist and commercial artist whose work ranges from collage on paper to canvas and resin boards to digital pieces that combine a mid-century modern aesthetic with a psychedelic color palette. He’s designed home furnishings under is brand Rex Ray Studio and stationery and accessories under the R2 Lab label. He’s designed for big name corporations including Apple, Dreamworks, and Swatch, in addition to Blik wall graphics, Flavor Paper wallpaper, and tiles for modwalls. Ray has shared five sources of design joy with Design Milk for this week’s Friday Five.
1. Obsessive Dot Painters
Let’s face it: We have to thank people with OCD for pretty much all the beauty in the world which nature didn’t create. It’s the insanely obsessive people who make our creative world go ’round. I celebrate the geniuses who revel in repetition, pattern, and accumulation. Today Yayoi Kusama, at the age of 82, lives by choice in a mental hospital in Tokyo and continues to produce beautiful artworks made almost entirely of dots. I don’t need to tell you about Roy Lichtenstein’s beautiful work except that the more pure, abstract, and dotty the work is, the more I love it. And don’t forget one of the great, unsung heroes of the Dot World: Vance Kirkland, from my old stomping ground, Colorado. I’ve been fascinated by his work since I first saw it thirty years ago. If you’re ever in Denver, run don’t walk to the Vance Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art. You won’t regret it.
2. My Record Collection
Records are one of my personal obsessions. I’ve been collecting for more than forty years; I think I have over ten thousand records. Music plays in my studio all day long, and I play it loud. I worked in record stores in my youth, and I’ve never lost that fascination for albums. LPs – the big, black plastic discs with beautiful sleeves. Browsing, hypnotically flipping through rows of filthy, second-hand records is like being in my own personal happy place.
About twenty years ago I began collecting copies of Fripp & Eno’s No Pussyfooting just because there seemed to be so many copies around for a buck or two. I also love the music, so the act of buying it again and again pleases me. Today, I have over eighty copies. I’ve collected to the point that I’m personally responsible for driving the price up to roughly $35 for a near mint copy. Sometimes, it’s soothing to slowly flip though and appreciate the variations in color, tone, and degrees of wear. Some evenings, I make an installation by spreading them out on the floor, Carl Andre style! Someday I may cover a wall with them. They’re like an experiential and versatile art piece.
3. Stray Chairs
For years chairs would follow me home. I’d pass a pair of Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs on the sidewalk and next thing you know they’d be living with me! Sometimes, without me noticing, they would follow me home and hide in my storage unit for years. Occasionally I’d visit my storage unit and think, “How the hell did you get in here?” Eventually I owned upwards of fifty chairs: Gio Ponti Superleggera chairs, Saarinen executive arm chairs, Eames fiberglass shell chairs, old fireproof office chairs, Harry Bertoia side chairs. That’s a lot of chairs for one guy! I’ve since divested myself of many of them and now own a reasonable twenty or thirty, because you never know when the Supreme Court judges and their dates might stop by for coffee.
I have two favorite chairs: the Eames molded plywood low side chair – a beautiful, iconic piece of post-war American design. It’s a very early model, and the finish is in wonderful condition, so I worry about it getting scratched and frankly, it’s not very comfortable – so no sitting allowed! The other is my Droog rag chair. It’s like some lumpy, recycled sculpture from the future past. It weighs a freakin’ ton and is exactly as comfortable as sitting on a pile of folded laundry. It’s in the same condition as the day I drunkenly bought it, and I worry about it getting dirty. Who would dry-clean that thing? So, you can’t sit on it either.
A chair is still a chair, even when no one is sitting there… except when it’s a sculpture.
4. Road Trips and Photography
Is there anything quite as joyous and liberating as being hurtled through the American landscape in a vehicle of your choosing while listening to your favorite music? The anticipation, the packing, the choosing of flip-flops, the loading of the iPod – it’s one of my favorite things in life.
I usually have a destination in mind and a rough timeline, but I never plan a route except for strange personal challenges like – today we only travel on odd numbered highways! I wing it day by day in the hopes of getting entirely lost and discovering something new and unusual. There’s so much to see–the sky, landscapes, architecture, the locals and their outfits, the signage and typography.
I always bring several cameras and stop frequently for photo ops. One of my favorite cameras is my beloved, twenty-year-old, disposable Kodak Panorama camera that I’ve re-jacked and hotwired into being re-usable. It’s duct-taped and shredded, and has a big red filter taped to the front. It’s a beautiful old workhorse of a camera. Changing the film is complicated – it requires a very dark motel room or a changing bag, but it takes the most spectacular photos. I’m getting that wistful wanderlust just thinking about it!
5. Antiques Roadshow
Objects and stories and stories about objects – what’s not to love? When I’m not adding to my own hoard I love watching people talk about their tchotchkes and doodads on Antiques Roadshow. There’s something comforting watching the experts explain to people what their own stuff is. I also love the stories about how people acquired their things. Then there’s the lottery-like anticipation of discovering that the odd but interesting stuff someone bought at a tag sale turns out to be worth a half a million dollars, or is a total fake. I’ve come to appreciate many items I never thought I’d particularly like: Navajo blankets, all kinds of baskets, Tiffany anything; and nothing makes me sit up now like a good nautical painting!