|Strobe Gallery Artist Profile: Bruce Gray / by Robin Emerson |
Ahh. A breath of fresh air. Bruce Gray's Brewery studio. Once I walked in through the metal-shop gone bad front workshop into his living space I felt an enormous sense of relief. I'd had a bad two days, but felt better instantly. My favorite table, "The Angry Dog," was sitting right there, one of his Functional Art pieces I'd seen in photos. I don't know why, but it's so cheering. It doesn't really look angry to me: I'd say it's leaning into a hearty laugh. Gray, a low-key unassuming, and friendly guy who could easily pass for a member of Lifter or FIREHOSE, offered me my choice of beer. I picked the Billy Goat cause I'd never heard of it and I like the hat wearing bleater on the label. We sat down at the red steel kitchen table he'd made, next to the swirly, holographic-looking aluminum covered refridgerator and talked about his art. I pushed him and pushed him for intellectual explanation, emotional exploration. I even begged for pretentious, arty interpretation. He just wouldn't give. As much as I love to think about things, create metaphors, and theorize, I kinda liked that he stubbornly insisted on a relaxed simplicity. "I like to avoid pretentious art scenarios. I'm not really too much for that; I think my art speaks for itself. If I was going to glue a cement brick to a wall, I'd have to come up with a major line of bullshit for it." His work is frequently very humorous, and he says he likes to make "...stuff that can cheer you up. Why shouldn't you have things in your home that make you smile or brighten up your day?" he asks. "I'm not really into depressing art. I appreciate some of it, but I can't really picture having it in my house where I'd see it all the time." Seeing the giant hands-on hip, foot-tapping stick figure entitled "You're Late" as you turn the hallway corner into your living room could definately give you a "spiritual" boner. I personally loved the stout little found object dogs, which are funny for no apparent reason other than they have such a real dog vibe. Of course, there are the animal tables- sharks, aligators, dogs- that are made from aluminum or steel, and often painted bright colors. He's also done a room screen with a cartoon-like jet fighter shooting off from it. (Lichtenstein-like," as he puts it.) The variety of mediums he uses, makes him think his work isn't always recognizable as his. But, in fact, there is a connecting thread. Apart from the humorous element, which isn't as obvious in his more complicated and abstract sculptures, there seems to be a general theme of weightlessness, of things floating. But it's not ethereal. I wouldn't say gravity defying either, because there's no defiance- things are just floating freely, at will. There's a feeling of easiness and out-of-the-blueness to everything. The humor itself is lightness in spirit. Becoming an artist seems to have occurred similarly "out of the blue." As a child, Gray says he enjoyed doing art-type things, but had no particular aspiration toward it. After high school he joined the Coast Guard, earning his college money on the GI bill, finding that it really was an adventure. Stationed in the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, he lived for a year with "no women, no town, no television, no radio." Just active volcanoes, extreme weather, the northern all-light or all-dark seasons, and wild bears looking for a good time. After that he thought he'd try his hand at photography and design school at the University of Massachusetts. He had no portfolio and tried to create one in a week, drawing things with no experience. His application was initially turned down, but he was accepted later on a probationary basis. Following school, he got a job doing design in an advertising firm. One day he quit, and went on a cross country, soul-searching drive that took him from Boston to Mexico City. This vision quest led him to devote himself to his art and live in LA, where he's been for the past six and a half years. Things are different out here than he expected. "Boston was a very social scene. When I came out here I thought I'd meet a ton of artists. I met some who'd been around for awhile, but found they wouldn't show me their studios. They were very secretive- so afraid of people ripping off their ideas. I have had the good fortune to meet an artist, though, who's become like a brother to me. We share our sources for materials, we've shared tools, we inspire each other. That's kind of how I thought it would be with every artist, but its just not that way." But Gray has compassion for his fellow artists with their difficulties in both the soulful aspects of creating art and the hardline financial realities. "It's a tough road selling art, 'cause it's such a luxury. I think it's bizarre that artists have to struggle so much." he says. Finding a way to create his art and survive, particularly without the ever-oppressive day job, "is the hardest thing I've ever tried; it's a major rollercoaster- trying to sell enough art to buy materials, pay rent, and live a normal life." One source of income also creates considerable exposure for him as well. Several of his pieces have been bought by a prop house and used in a wide variety of motion pictures, TV shows and commercials, and music videos. Unsurprisingly, they've appeared in all three of the new Star Trek series, as well as in other shows like Murder She Wrote and Murphy Brown. Gray's work will also be shown in upcoming potential-blockbusters Forget Paris and the new Batman. And if your curiosity is strong enough - and you can stomach Bruce Willis naked - you can rent The Color of Night, in which it's featured prominently. But despite the struggle, Gray wouldn't trade what he's doing for anything. "It took me a long time to find the right avenue to express myself. I've floundered around in a lot of different career directions, and I've finally felt 'this is what I should be doing.' I have just tons of ideas. I feel like I've found my niche. As an artist, it's really difficult to find the right niche. "Pretty much every piece I make makes me happy. I like having the stuff around me. I figure if I like it enough that I'm sad when it goes, then there's something to be said for it. I feel like all my creations are like children in a way. They go their own way and all I'm left with is a photograph." Bruce Gray can be contacted at 688 South Avenue 21, Los Angeles, CA 90031. (323) 223-4059.
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