Here is a series of videos on Charles Ray's sculpture 1997-2014, at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Charles Ray, born in Chicago, in 1953, is perhaps one of the most thought provoking pop artists of his time. Whether his medium is film, photography, sculpture, or performance art, he is guaranteed to entice a certain degree of human intellect and question. By keeping his media and subject matter broad, Ray's artwork swiftly bypasses the monotony and boredom that often results from exploitation of pattern, repetition and serial activity often inherent in contemporary art. Although well within the pop art tradition, his work is also influenced by the photo realist sculptors John de Andrea and Duane Hanson, as well as the performanceand conceptual artists.
Utilizing the power of both his hand and his mind, he is distinguished not only as an artist, but also as a scholar. He first attended the University of Iowa, where he graduated cum laude. Then, to further expand on his education, he completed his Masters of Fine Arts at the Mason Gross School of Art at Rutgers University. Having never totally abandoned this intellectual mindset, his works seem to be subliminally injected with an element that creates inquisition and yearning to understand his intentions.
While his works are not necessarily, aesthetically intricate, they are complex in regards to the reaction provoked from the audience. For example, in his "Ink Box," which consists of an ink-filled geometric cube, the excitement oozes not from the physical constructs of the liquid, but instead from the nervous emotions it provokes. The ink is ready to spill over the edge of the cube, the audience having been trained to detest a mess, sees the foreshadowing of a possible accident. As a result, they anticipate disaster, and therefore become tense with edgy excitement.
Adding intense human emotion to representational art, Ray sets the stage for an array of reactions and responses. He creates a thought-provoking piece, and then sets the audience free to critique his intentions. An example of this intellectual process is his "Unpainted Sculpture," a plaster replica of a crashed automobile. Contrary to its title, the twisted, mangled sculpture is painted a monotone shade of gray. As the audience is confronted with the mutilated image, the possibility of human death becomes apparent and the viewer becomes ashamedly curious.
Again, by keeping the audience in suspense, Ray has managed to once again grasp the emotional interest and intrigue of his audience.
Through another set of sculptures, Ray creates lifelike representations of the human form. In each case though, a particular element of the anatomical figure has been dramatically altered or exaggerated. His, "Self-Portrait," for example, consists of a large realistically sculpted model that closely resembles himself. The unnatural element of this piece appears in the dramatized facial features, which give the figure a cartoon-like appearance.
In "Family Romance," a nude family consisting of a father, mother, son and daughter, form a human chain by adjoining hands. The bodies of the children seem to be of correct proportions in relation to one another, but when compared to the form of the parent, the son and daughter suddenly seem abnormally large and oversized. These forms again create uneasiness and confusion within the viewer as they struggle to pinpoint the problem within the piece.
Ray has also been involved with performance art. One of his most astonishing works that results from performance is a photograph of a man pinned up against a wall by the edge of a long wooden board. The board juts into the man's stomach, as he buckles forward from the torso. His head hangs lifelessly towards the ground, as his arms dangle limply from the shoulder blade. Again, the audience feels disturbed and disoriented as they try to understand the perplexities within the awkward positioning.
Charles Ray's compositions are as dynamic in aesthetics as they are in content. Each one totally unique and completely creative, he manipulates the existence of familiar icons and figures in the pop art tradition, although heavily influenced by conceptual and performance art. Through his innovative constructions he challenges the audience to experience the realness of representational art.
Page author: J.S.