“Ray Turner: Population” at the Long Beach Museum of Art

I’m glad I had the opportunity to check out this show going on at the Long Beach Museum of Art. I had not been familiar with Ray Turner’s work before, but a few months ago I started seeing banners for this show around town and I was intrigued. Two different styles of portraits were juxtaposed, one style that’s clearly realistic but impressionistic and loosely painted, and the other style was almost abstract, with very deconstructed faces. I loved how you could really see the texture of the paint in those images and I really wanted to see them in person. How lucky, then, that they happened to be so close by? I met up with a friend for the museum’s free Thursday night admission, and after enjoying a light happy hour at the museum restaurant we ambled our way into the galleries.

The paintings are pretty small–around 12 x 12–oil paintings on glass squares all arranged in a grid. Rows and rows of heads, all different shapes and colors. You see the realistic ones first, quite masterfully painted and juicy with paint. We noticed that the backgrounds were different colors and at first we thought it was colored glass, but it turns out that the wall itself was painted, the colors going from yellow-green to lavender, quite beautiful. As you move farther back into the galleries, the portraits get more wild and primitive, until some are just bare suggestions of faces smeared with a palette knife or large brush. These have their own charm, though, perhaps being more about the subject’s inner turmoil or personality than about how well-rendered a reflective light is. There were some monoprints as well, some almost like smudgy charcoal drawings. I think the odd and sort of unnecessary pieces for me were the large prints of photographs of some of the paintings. Because the original glass surface is clear, someone clipped out the background in photoshop and placed a color background. It bothered me to see the halo around some of the areas that hadn’t been clipped closely enough, and the effect just wasn’t the same. While you could see the representation of the texture, not to be able to observe it in the third dimension is disappointing, no matter how big they blow up the image. However, it was a satisfying exhibit overall–there was much to admire and observe in these paintings, especially in light of the direction in my own recent paintings. There were a couple of really teeny-tiny paintings that particularly captured my fancy. They were probably about 3″ x 3″ wood panels with a little portrait on glass mounted on top. What was interesting was that you could see through the clear parts to the paint that was on the wood panel itself–as you see more and more of the details you get sucked into this tinys painting’s microcosm. I wish I’d taken some more pictures, but these will have to do.

Published by stephaniehanart

Artist and graphic designer living in Southern California.

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