A Picture is a Word: The Posters of Rex Ray
October 2018 – February 2019
Curated by Cydney Payton and Amy Scholder
“A Picture is a Word: The Posters of Rex Ray” surveyed the graphic works of internationally renowed San Francisco queer artist and designer Rex Ray (1956–2015). Many of the works were designed for Bill Graham Presents, dating from the early 1990s to 2014. The exhibition borrowed a note from Andy Warhol’s question: Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves? It examined Ray’s use of repeating symbols and iconography appropriated from sources as varied as Warhol, mid-century typography and design, gay culture and everyday objects.
Curators Cydney Payton and Amy Scholder drew attention to Ray’s signature graphics, first developed using a Mac Plus long before deisgn applications changed the course of that art form. This distinctive digital style went on to influence the next generation of artists, clients in music and publishing, and their audiences. Ray’s poster designs are, in part, documents of the Bay Area music scene, and his book covers for City Lights and High Risk offer a brief history of LGBTQ+ literature. Vibrant and accessible—intentionally subversively so—Ray’s art effortlessly mixes concepts of high and low culture, beauty and postmodern conceptualism.
About the Artist
Rex Ray was born in Landstuhl, Germany on September 11, 1956. His parents named him Michael Patterson. He was raised in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he was inspired by Andy Warhol to adopt the moniker Rex Ray. Moving to San Francisco in 1981, he became best known for his innovative pop aesthetic in fine and commercial art on canvases, wood panels, album covers, paper, book jackets, murals and posters. Throughout this lifetime, Ray was a major force in the Bay Area’s art, literary, LGBTQ and activist communities.
Ray attended the San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied with Sam Tchakalian, Kathy Acker and Angela Davis, receiving his BFA in 1989. He was one of the first artists to use Mac-based technologies in the creative process to generate graphics and fine art. To achieve his signature style, Ray combined digital graphics with Xerography, handmade woodblock prints, newsprint and magazine images into works that reference decorative arts and midcentury modernism as well as the dada, Fluxus and pop art movements of the 20th century.
Ray’s early designs include the first graphics for the San Francisco chapter of the AIDS activist group ACT UP; flyers and posters for queer nightclubs; and a hundred book covers for City Lights Books, High Risk/Serpent’s Tail and other imprints. His impressive client roster in the music, fashion, entertainment and design industries includes David Bowie, The Residents, Bill Graham Presents, DreamWorks, Levis, Neiman Marcus, Sony Music, Warner Brothers and Apple.
The artist’s exhibition history includes the Akron Art Museum, Akron, Ohio; the Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, Calif; the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; The Kirkland Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; the San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, Calif.; and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.
Rey Ray died in San Francisco on February 9, 2015. He was 58 years old. His estate maintains a website offering more information on his life and work at www.rexraystudio.com. For art by Ray available for purchase, the estate is represented by Gallery 16 in San Francisco; visit the gallery website at gallery16.com.
Archival collections of Ray’s work are preserved by the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland; and the GL?BT Historical Society in San Francisco.
About the Curators
Amy Scholder has been editing and publishing progressive and literary books for more than 20 years. Her visionary style has brought high visibility to her authors. She has served as editorial director of the Feminist Press, editor in chief of Seven Stories Press, United States publisher of Verso, founding co-editor of High Risk Books/Serpent’s Tail, and editor at City Lights Books. Currently she serves as president of Lambda Literary and is producing the documentary feature Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. Visit the website for the film at www.disclosurethemovie.com.
Cydney Payton founded and directed the Cydney Payton Gallery and the Payton Rule Gallery, both in Denver, Colo. She has been director and curator for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. She has served on panels such as Creative Capital, New York, and the Taishin Art Awards, Taiwan. She has written on art and architecture for numerous publications. Her current focus is the relationships between contemporary art and the histories of architecture. Visit her website at www.cydneypayton.com.
About the Sponsors
“A Picture is a Word: The Posters of Rex Ray” was sponsored by Another Planet Entertainment, Arlene Owseichik, Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, Gallery 16, Richard Peterson, Tim Gleason, The Estate of Rex Ray and The Monkey Tree Hotel.
Banner photo: Dave Earl, Rex Ray Exhibition.