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Reginald Gray


(The following was written before Mr. Gray's death on March 29, 2013) REGINALD GRAY is known as one of today's important portrait painters. He was born in Dublin in 1930. After studies at the National College of Art he became designer for the Pike and Gate Theatres Dublin and the Lyric Theatre London. He has had one-man exhibitions in Dublin, London, New York, Paris and Rouen and been represented at the Royal Academy and the Irish Exhibition of Living Art. His life portrait of Francis Bacon is in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery London. In the late 1950s and early 60s Gray was part of The School of London which was led by Bacon, Freud and Auerbach. First one-man exhibition at Abbott & Holder Gallery, London, 1960. His portraits from life include writers Samuel Beckett and Jill Neville, the prince of Brunei, actors Julitte Binoche and Laurent Terzieff and Britpop Artist Justine Frischmann. He has created two bookcovers for the prominent Irish poet Derry O'Sullivan. The New York film director Kerry Franzman produced the film "Portrait of a Portrait Artist" on the life of Gray which was selected for the New York Film Festival December 2001. In February 2002, Gray was elected an official member of The American Society of Portrait Painters.

Reginald Gray: Some Reflections on Painting

Can painting be measured? or judged? I feel that if a painting sometimes succeeds (in my own case, I feel that this is not too often) it is perhaps that the fundamental structure of precise mechanics have wonderfully collapsed and given way to some poetry in the work. I see this very much in the work of Modigliani. Technically his work contains many academic faults but these faults are drowned by a sea of poetry. Francis Bacon said that during the process of painting, accidents happen and he himself used these accidents, and went forward with them to a positive end. Does the artist in any way see the finished work in his mind's eye at the moment of the first brushstroke? If the artist is strong, I doubt so. Painting is an intensely personal problem. It is solitude to the extreme, but the problems are intriguing. They are the problems of form and colour and above all problems of the soul. I find one of the interesting aspects of painting, sculpture and architectute is the instant contact. In literature or music one is obliged to read from page 1 to page 674 of Joyce, or listen from the first to the last note of Beethoven's 7th. This time process, although necessary to study a plastic art in the long term, does not take much away from the enjoyment from the direct impact that a painting or sculpture can have on the first look by the spectator. It is as instant as Nescafé. I do not think that a painter should become too intellectual. To my mind, those who did become so have in some way fallen by the wayside, and their work was or is constipated, where as I do believe Vincent Van Gogh had very good bowel movement. The job of the artist is to produce work that does not fall into the category of wall decoration.

Looking at Other Artists

I was 27 years old and had just arrived to live in London, from Dublin. A book that I took out from Paddington lending library on the Italian Renaissance included a black and white reproduction of a portrait by Domenico Ghirlandaio 1449/94, titled "Costanza Caetani" (collection National Gallery, London). I was overwhelmed by the beauty and auterity of the work and went to the Gallery to see the original, but found that it was not on display. I telephoned the Gallery and made an appointment to see the portrait. A Gallery official took me to a basement storeroom and at last I saw the egg tempera on panel of dear Constanza. Since that day....that portrait has lived deep inside of me both as a stimulant for living and for working. Recently some "experts?" have attributed this work to Fra Bartolommeo 1484/1517. Having studied intensely the life and work of Ghirlandaio, I tend to support the earlier attribute. Fifty years have now passed since I left the Dublin College of Art and braved the wilderness of a life more inclined to "la Boheme" than to the comforts of the "nine to five". Out there.....there are other artists who have influenced me, and others for whom I have had great admiration. I suppose the big influences of contemporaries have been Graham Sutherland, Lucien Freud and Mario Sironi. Those whom I have admired are Augustus John, William Coldstream and Francis Bacon. More recently I have become interested in the portraits of the Dutch painter Anthonis Mor 1519/1576. Most of his sitters were from Royal houses. His interpretation of "Marie d'Autriche wife of Maximilien 2" (Prado Museum, Madrid) is to me as strong as the best of the Italian or Spanish Renaissance can offer. In spite of the many jewels that are bestowed on his sitters, he works these accessories into the paint in a way that is more to do with form than decoration. Once more I find in Mor an artist that surrounds his sitters in a still austerity, full of mystery and poetry that outside Ghirlandaio, Caravaggio, Velazquez and today's Freud is hard to come by.

Reginald Gray, July 2002.

  Reginald Gray Images
1960 Portrait from life of Francis Bacon
1962 Girl with Fringe
c. 1962 Portobello Road
1967 Portrait of Jill Neville
1985 Sieglinde
1987 Claudia
1988 Francis Bacon
1989 Sophie - Charlotte de Capdevielle
1990 Femme dans un interieur
1991 Portrait of Laurent Tergieff
1992 Groupe avec Journal
1992 The Irish Girl
1992 Simone
1993 Political Refugees
1993 Setter with Woodcock
1996 Le Manteau Rouge
2002 Portrait of Doina
2002 Portrait of Justine Frischman

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