It is with great sadness and a wounded heart that I write with the news of Rex Ray's death. He passed away last night after a long struggle at the age of 59. I’m honored to say he was my friend of nearly 25 years.
At a very early age, Rex knew that art-making was his passion. And for the rest of his life he worked everyday at fine tuning his craft. Work was important to Rex--The work of making art, the work of relying on his imagination and accepting the consequences. He invented a way of working as an artist that was singularly his own. How many of us can say that? How many of us can ignore our critics and truly follow our own particular sensibility? Rex did that everyday. Not without self doubt, he had that for sure. Not without failure, he was frank about that as well. But, he lived his life and made his work with grace.
He loved music. Did he! He studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and Tower Records. He was an avid collector of vinyl records with a wide open mind and a curious ear. His collection was the envy of his friends and the collection itself was frequently incorporated into his graphic artwork. No pussyfooting!
His epic catalog of rock posters is enough to cement his creative reputation. His tour posters and album art is a who’s who of rock royalty including David Bowie, The Stones, Radiohead, Beck, Robert Plant, REM and many more.
But, that was his day job. His passion was a lifelong studio art practice. Making artwork was the unerring focus of his life. His exuberant canvases were so singularly his, made with a collage technique developed through trial and error over decades of constant work with the goal of describing his own particular sense of beauty. It just so happens that many thousands of others found that it was their sense of beauty as well.
I am stunned by the global outpouring of those touched by his work. He was a true populist art star. Rex exhibited his work in the second show I organized after founding Gallery 16. For the next 20 years I’ve marveled at the way he crafted a life in the arts utterly of his own making. He was often opposed to the dominant trends of the art world, but was always aware of them. His success was not aided by powers in the art world, collectors or curators. His success was the result of a populist outpouring of people who coveted his work. While all artists borrow and steal from those who came before, Rex did so while developing a style that was uniquely his own. A style that has become so routinely imitated. The artist David Robbins proclaimed “ Make whatever you like and accept the consequences without complaint. Don’t ask curators. Don’t ask the marketplace. Don’t ask New York. Don’t ask Hollywood. Insist on complete access to your own imagination.” This could have been Rex’s mantra.
I loved Rex. His bright smile, his dark humor, his effortless cool, his eagerness to say YES! Rex was a deeply driven creative spirit and an extremely humble man. He was generous to others, self deprecating and fiercely loyal.
So, in Rex’s wake lets look within ourselves, within each other, and embolden those gifts that make each of us distinct: not wealth or fame, intellect or pedigree, but the extraordinary beauty of the human heart.