Dick Wray

Dick Wray draws incessantly. His notebooks are well-known among artists in Houston. They function both as Baedekers and biographies for an overall peripatetic production which ranges from the little pictographic adventures of his avian buddy, Mr. Crow, to vast, abstract baroque tirades. Wray’s large canvases, on the other hand, have always been uningratiating, usually provocative, and frequently irritating, filled with willful oppositions between delicate drawing and mucky impastos, vaporous pastels and declamatory primaries, miniaturist details and vast scumblings of matter, and rectilinear grids overwhelmed by amorphous miasmas. They have also been a ground for the staging of stylistic battles, with their resolute standoffs between elements of Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist purity and Willem de Kooning’s gestural effulgence. In the large works, Wray has tended to submerge his own vigorous identity into the modernist discourse between planar construction and expressionistic extravagance. With this show, things appear to be changing.

In Untitled, 1988, which is representative of about half the works in this show, the central image resembles a covey of wiry gray sacs bursting over a pale floral field. But the other new paintings look like big exploded drawings. It’s as though the notebooks had burst outwards from some internal combustion. Some of the works are incrementally dense and cacophonous with detail, yet so variously conceived and individually resolved as to convince us that each is a subjective experience requiring such fantastic testimonial. Wray lets his little dramatis personae advance to the foreground, come downstage as it were. The Globe of Warsaw, 1989, is a mixed-media montage of key emblems of Poland’s capital. Cartographic and kaleidoscopic, it is a huge charcoal perambulation highlighting certain features of the city, with traffic circles, elevations, and axonometric views more or less connected by grid forms. It has a fake semblance of order that is shattered into sections, fracturing objects into fragments resembling racks and wheels and broken swastikas. Amid these are collaged words in Hebrew, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, and German, and shreds of black paper overprinted in fiery oranges with words like “Tod” (death). This tour de force is centrally anchored by a rendering of a 40-story palace of culture, a “tower of force” celebrating the end of World War II.

Dolomita, 1989, shows the sensuous side of Wray’s work. It depicts a blushing pink rump with little markings drawn at the center—like pin-up donkey tails, or tiny nostrils on a face. A private image of celestial dimensions, it is bordered equally by short-stroked verticals at the bottom and laterals at the top, and a harboring black peak ascending upwards along the right, which Wray calls just a part of “the most beautiful landscape in the world”—the body.

Joan Seeman Robinson