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Joe Ray

American, b. 1944

Rings and Spheres

5 x 12 x 12 in. (12.7 x 30.48 x 30.48 cm)
Gift of Joe Austin and Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

In the mid-1960s, partially through the interdisciplinary work of artist DeWain Valentine and chemical engineer Ed Revay, there was a revolution in the use of plastics and cast resin throughout Southern California. In particular, the new materials inspired and helped fulfill the visions of a generation of sculptors from many backgrounds and with varied interests.

Some artists pursued the large-scale curing of resin in the manner of scientists, slowly refining the techniques involved in its production to compensate for its temperamental nature and tendency to crack. Others reveled in the alchemical oddity of the material, employing the witch doctor’s animism to exploit resin’s paradoxical nature as a hard substance that can both radiate and be permeated by light.

Joe Ray’s Rings and Spheres is expressive of both the world of science and the mysterious realm of the spirit. It demonstrates painstaking craftsmanship as well as conjuring a wide range of metaphors. The work wears a hard shell and a stoic bearing, and the colors of its seven resin rings and spheres are deep and opaque. “I was into outer space and inner space,” Ray said of this body of work. “I wanted the inner space of a human individual and the largeness of the cosmos. I was thinking of the circulatory system as equally vast as the celestial.”

Rings and Spheres draws a humanistic line from the infinitesimal world of the atomic nucleus through the structure of the human heart to the patterns of stars and solar systems. The sculpture’s seven pieces link it to that number’s mystical and numerological meanings, adding a cryptic edge to the proceedings. Ultimately, using scientific techniques and innovations in technology, Ray approaches the limits of knowledge, pushing associative chains to the point of their evaporation in unknowing.

Ed Schad

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