BY HARRY GEORGESON “The artist fills space with an attitude. The attitude never comes from himself alone.” Willem de Kooning.
Twelve years ago Malcolm Bray embarked on the precarious career as a full-time painter. Remarkably Bray, a self-taught artist sprung, as if fully formed, into the creation of a stunningly beautiful series of nude semi-abstract figurative paintings. This first series had all the brio of a self-found and a self-surprised intuitive talent. These paintings were studies in monochromatic, structural compositions. Somber tones and sensual drawing indicates strength for psychological portraiture within a brooding eroticism.
Here is a late bloomer who over the years has been unconsciously visually ingesting paintings - especially the New York School from the mid-20th century. Bray was now ready to expand and make his unique contribution to this American tradition.
Bray makes mental morphological images which trace inner emotional states pertaining to his interpersonal relationships and to his responses to the natural world. He is not a plein-air painter. He organizes his experiences within the act of painting in the confines and privacy of his studio. He aims to communicate densely layered perceptions and feelings into visual self revelations.
In the contemporary art world gone awry, disgust, outrage and shock have been over played and these supposed new norms now have become the new ennui. Bray has chosen, in British fashion, to turn his back on this academy of aesthetic nihilism. Interweaving the inspirations of Abstract Expressionism and Abstract Lyricism, Bray has left behind the angst of expressionism while taking its spontaneity and physical gestural release. He has a thorough working understanding of the Hofmannesque dicta of push pull and cubism’s dimensional tensions of the picture plane, accompanied by the modernists awareness of the eternal now or static time. From Abstract Lyricism he has taken a refined Zen like calligraphy and subtle color harmonies in the pastel spectrum. He avoids muscular macho gestures and concentrates on the sweeping fluid motions of lyrical calligraphy, a calligraphy alternating between a delicate subtlety and a robust roughness. Each juxtaposed stroke becomes a structure for beautifully breathed color swathes and dazzling effects, setting up new rhythms with their disjunction. These paintings are pure exuberance. They accrete through veils, swathes, rivulets, pools and flows of pigment, where at times they have either a buoyant levitation or a settled gravity.
Bray has a voice of serious aspiration. A contemplative voice that speaks to him in private reveries of pastoral idylls, flattened into maps of a transatlantic dream-time between Britain and the New World - a land existing in a synesthetic cloud of amorphous sensate experience. Bray begins an abstract painting in a state of spontaneous unknowing. His procedural realizations are never fully complete but convoluted, tumbling and overlapping as if in imitation of eternal flux. His is a world of moist liquidity, atmospheric mists, fetid earthiness, ethers and distilled suspensions of air and water. His gestural muscle memory is reinforced through repetition. At some point, not predetermined, his process and technique conveys to his unconscious mind that the particular goal of a painting is possible and that the resolution of both its formal properties and his spent energies brings its completion in sight.
The artistry in Bray’s visualization is knowing when enough is enough, most critically when to stop. His paintings adhere and congeal into final images as if formed by their own inner logic apart from the artist’s will.
In his recent work, Bray has turned a sideways glance towards his previous expressionistic paintings. He has experimented with the repetitions of a set of artistic operations in a variety of ways which have become part of his pattern of development. In devising this method he has restrained himself from leaping too far forward and jeopardizing the essence of his imagery.
These are hard won compositions belying the apparent ease of disordered spontaneity. They transport us into a realm of emotion and underlying meaning touching on the eternally dramatic.
With this show Bray continues to paint as he began twelve years ago, with sheer vitality and joie de vivre.