On view in the Chan Gallery through April 28, 2018
Todd Gray was born in 1962 in Newark, New Jersey, and he and his family later relocated to Los Angeles. Growing up, he was very involved with making art, and after earning a degree in clinical psychology the University of California, Los Angeles, he studied at the San Francisco Academy of Art. Following a year of traveling after college, he realized that, “when he made art, time stood still”, confirming his decision to be an artist.
From the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, Gray focused on hard-edge geometric painting, often with multiple shaped canvases that created a dynamic spatial illusionism. He cites a number of artists as his inspirations including Al Held, especially for his work during the 1980s, which depicted forms in multiple perspectives, painted in saturated colors. Gray counts among his other important influences the op art painter Victor Vasarely, known for his perceptually challenging canvases, and Yaacov Agam, whose kinetic work employs color as shifting light.
Gray’s sculpture began in the late 1980s, and it featured complex works, with geometic forms with bright colors and patterns, animated by an off-kilter, high spirited energy. This work met with considerable success, both in many gallery exhibitions in New York and on the West Coast, and in numerous corporate commissions. His later sculptural work used the language of abstraction that he had explored in this earlier period, but with a focus on pop imagery.
Beginning in 2014, Gray began a strong, new series that he named Pop Geometry. It has brought together many of his artistic impulses – sculpture animated by vibrant color and a sense of play, all enlivened by his interest in classic American pop art. In an ongoing series of sculptures, both wallmounted and free-standing, Gray wood boxes painted with visual quotations from pop icons Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Indiana, along with comic book exclamations, graphic patterns, cartoons, super heroes, hashtags, and emojis.
We live in a recombinant culture of rampant availability, where information is shared, transmogrified, and reconstituted into new forms. The Internet and social media have given this process an undeniable energy and momentum. The remix and the mash-up, two very concentrated forms of melding content from different sources, have transformed popular music and the visual arts in powerful and unexpected ways. Todd Gray’s painted sculptures have a distinct currency and impact when regarded this contemporary context. His Pop Geometry series encompasses a range of eight sub-groups, but they all have in common imagery from classic American pop art, comic book exclamations POW! and ZAP!, emojis, and hashtags. The sculptures, made of wood boxes that have been painted on their exposed surfaces, have a dynamic kick with bold colors, animated patterns, and diverse fonts.
In Grays work there is a feeling of simultaneity, with a wide range of visual elements all competing for our attention. In its raucous insistence, the sculptures’ messaging suggests our digital life – complex, hyped-up, and always on. All the planes of Gray’s boxes have a black border with rounded corners, which both creates a coloristic intensity and the sense that we are looking at many electronic screens, each activated with its own display.
The Zabba Series has wall pieces of two different types: large boxes piling up into exuberant constructions, and works featuring a grid of cubes resembling a keypad, painted with either numerals or solid colors, and mounted on a dotted panel. The Totems and the Towers share a similar vertical orientation, with the former having a single column of boxes, while the latter displays a structured, architectonic sensibility. The Big Bang Series has a lenticular structure that bears either words or pictures suggesting an explosion. The Lucky Charms Collection eschews words and patterns for cubes in flat, rich colors playing off against boxes painted in black, white, and gray.
Whatever the arrangement, Gray visually quotes from the paintings of famous pop artists – Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup cans, Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book women, Robert Indiana’s LOVE – as well as Victor Vasarely’s op art patterns. By appropriating their imagery, Gray is reprising what the original pop artists did in their own work: sampling images from the media world around them, celebrating and questioning these icons, and then remixing them into something personal and new.