Alan Bray’s casein-on-panel landscapes are cool, elegant, and blessedly devoid of prettiness… [They]evoke nature’s majesty but drain away its wildness, suggesting something of the poise and repose of Giotto or Mantegna. -The New Yorker
Alan Bray was born in Waterville, Maine, on January 12, 1946, but he grew up in Monson, a small slate-quarrying town set in the northern reaches of the Appalachians. It was here, hiking and camping with liked-minded childhood friends, that he began to exercise his natural inquisitiveness as a tool for building woods-craft. In these rugged foothills, ever alive with the turning of the seasons yet always plainly bearing the imprint of eons-old geologic upheaval, Bray learned to find his way around in a world of enigmatic signs and divergent trails. Unwittingly, before ever picking up a brush, he developed the sensibilities of a landscape painter by developing sensitivities to the relationships between the living and the ancient land on which life depends.
Later, when Bray decided to study art formally, he enrolled in the Art Institute of Boston, where he first felt the appeal of image-making as a way of understanding the world. Three years of studio work revealed the need for a more traditional approach to the discipline of painting, one informed by the broader range of a liberal education, a revelation that prompted Bray to enroll at the University of Southern Maine, from which he graduated in 1971. While this education was in many ways a success – particularly in the way it engendered literacies in fields outside the fine arts – it was nevertheless incomplete: well-prepared now for the next leg of the journey, Bray traveled to Florence to study at Villa Schifanoia Graduate School of Fine Arts.
Villa Schifanoia, Florence, the Italian Renaissance held many treasures and gave freely to a painter who was now mature enough in his art to receive them. Including a new medium and a new physical structure for his paintings –tempera on panel. The technical challenges of this medium, the necessary adjustments in craft, and the limitations of scale favored, and inspired, someone of a practical as well as a visionary intelligence.
As a naturalist and painter alike, Bray is interested in what ordinarily goes unobserved. “I paint what is right around me,” he says. “Occasionally it’s a big subject, but more often it’s a bird’s nest or a farm pond.” Like the simple geometries of his compositions, however, Bray’s choice of unobtrusive subjects rather than showy ones – of back-water meanders rather than mountaintop vistas – is deceptive. Becoming an expert reader of bogs, of shorelines, of rock slides and hillsides and fallow fields, of daybreaks and twilights and the cusps of seasons, Bray has found everywhere, in the quiet corners of his native terrain – “ in the way water moves or trees branch or little brooks dry out in a serious drought” – the sources of the spirituality that infuses his work and that makes it transformative rather than simply descriptive.
Bray paints in casein, a milk-based tempera that has virtually no drying time.Necessarily, his paintings are technically complex because they consist of thousands of tiny brush strokes, built up in layers, out of which the images – the vision – advance from the foundation of a mirror-smooth, absolute void of white ground. It is a method of painting that follows directly from his method of exploring his subjects.
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