Celebrated artist and graphic designer Rex Ray died on February 9, 2015 in San Francisco, California after a prolonged struggle with cancer. A major cultural force in the art, literary, and activist communities in the Bay Area, he was recognized for his collage pop aesthetic.
Born Michael Patterson in Germany on a United States army base in 1956, he grew up in Colorado Springs and studied fine art at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. In 1981 he moved to San Francisco, completed his BFA at San Francisco Art Institute, where he entered graduate studies. During an era of anti-beauty aesthetics, Rex Ray committed himself to a lifelong practice embedded in beauty.
His career took off with ubiquitous digital designs produced as gorilla marketing for nightclubs and rock ’n’ roll shows. He created the first t-shirts and posters for the San Francisco chapter of the protest group Act Up. An innovator in graphic arts, he was one of the first to embrace Mac-based technology combining color xerox, photo souvenirs, and typefaces of his own design. He created book covers for City Lights Publishers and other independent presses; graphics for The Residents and other indie bands; and in time, commissions for major recording artists such as David Bowie.
“Rex’s art correlates closely to that of other artists who seemingly cross over from design or pop art graphics”
In the early 90s, rebelling against his own highly successful computer graphics business, he returned to his studio practice generating a prolific body of work. His collage and painting of the last twenty years is marked by the use of parabolic forms, double images, and seemingly infinite repetition of eye-popping compositions. In Rex Ray: Art + Design (Chronicle Books, 2007) acclaimed novelist and cultural critic Douglas Coupland writes “Rex’s art correlates closely to that of other artists who seemingly cross over from design or pop art graphics, such as Takashi Murakami or Ryan McGinness.”
Rex Ray exhibited in San Francisco at Gallery 16 with his long-time friend and gallerist Griff Williams. His signature paintings, collages, and prints have been shown at major museums including Akron Art Museum, Crocker Art Museum, MCA DENVER, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Jose Museum of Art, Berkeley Art Museum, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. His work is in the permanent collections of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Denver Art Museum, and Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art in Denver, Colorado. Currently several paintings are featured in the traveling group exhibition, Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting, which is organized by René Paul Barilleaux, Chief Curator, for the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio.
Important design commissions include those from Apple, HIGH RISK Books/Serpent’s Tail, DreamWorks, Levi’s, and Neiman Marcus. His lifelong passion for music led to projects for Bill Graham Presents, Another Planet, Sony Music, Warner Brothers, and Matador Records. Products that bear his distinctive imagery include scarves, carpets, ceramics, wristwatches, and even a car.
Rex Ray is survived by his sister, Jean Cathey, and his brother, Kevin Patterson; Tim Gleason, Amy Scholder, Cydney Payton, Gent Sturgeon, and an enormous community of beloved friends.
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