I was so very sad to hear on Monday of the death of Rex Ray, the San Francisco-based collage artist and graphic designer. He was a colour and pattern genius, and the creator of colourful, beautiful, joyful artworks that transcended categorisation but never failed to brighten my day, feed my soul, and make me smile.
I wrote previously about Rex Ray and his work here, here and here. Looking back, Rex Ray was possibly also a principle source of inspiration for me starting this site. I wanted to showcase artists, designers and makers whose work with pattern, colour and craftsmanship make our homes more beautiful and more inspiring. And, also, happier places to live.
I remember feeling so excited and uplifted when I first discovered Rex Ray’s work on the Jonathan Adler website. Imagine my joy when the first Jonathan Adler shop opened in London, and I could feast my eyes on their selection of original Rex Ray pieces, right there in front of me. Apparently they were hugely popular, and just flew off the walls.
Quite right too. I could never understand why his work wasn’t picked up by more British retailers, it was so unique and special. But then again, I’m a (
slightly totally obsessed) fan, so I would say that.
I’ll leave the rest of this tribute to the community and the people who knew Rex Ray best. Here’s a column from KQED Arts. And below is this heartfelt piece by Griff Williams, the owner of Gallery 16 in San Francisco, a close friend as well as supporter of the artist for nearly 25 years. Here’s a short excerpt:
I loved Rex. His bright smile, his dark humor, his effortless cool, his
eagerness to say YES! Rex was a deeply driven creative spirit and an
extremely humble man. He was generous to others, self deprecating and
So, in Rex’s wake lets look within ourselves, within each other, and
embolden those gifts that make each of us distinct: not wealth or fame,
intellect or pedigree, but the extraordinary beauty of the human heart.
I had the pleasure of actually meeting Rex Ray at Gallery 16 when he had a major exhibition there. This show coincided, utterly by chance, with a trip we made to Northern California. I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered we were going to arrive in SF the day after his show opened.
I raced down to the gallery, and shortly afterwards in walked Rex Ray himself. I was in such a dither! The whole story is in this piece here. I’m absolutely sure I was instantly forgotten by him, but it makes me very happy that I got to tell him in person how much his work meant to me.
I’m equally inspired and motivated by his philosophy on life, creativity, and making art. These quotes from the book ‘Rex Ray: Art + Design’ are on the pin board above my desk:
A lot of cultural conditioning goes on today, restraining us from doing certain things that might seem silly or useless at the time, but that may have great significance in the end. Anything that can help break down those barriers and provide an opening for other ideas to emerge is welcome.
I’m not as much confident as I am fearless. I have a lot of doubt and a lot of insecurity when I go into a given situation. But I don’t let it stop me. It took a long time to find that.
To close, here’s a lovely video of Rex Ray, making one of his large collage panels and talking about his work.
RIP Rex Ray. Thank you so much for your talent, courage and belief in beauty. As I write this there’s a lump in my throat and I’m blinking away the tears. I know, though, that your work (and words) will continue to make me smile.