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COCA Spotlight: ‘Unbridled optimism’

By: Amanda Sieradzki, COCA | November 19, 2018

World-renowned artist and color theorist Ray Burggraf takes note of the water towers he passes by on long drives. No matter the shade of blue or purple or green paint, the colors never quite come together to match the sky and camouflage the structures. He admires the ones that come close however.

Burggraf has spent the majority of his career painting the world he sees in prismatic color. His skyward gaze is distinct and unique in “Blue Skies — New Works and Revisions,” his fall exhibition at Venvi Art Gallery. Re-examining his past work and introducing new works, Burggraf’s abstract color constructions are placed in realistic landscapes, sometimes floating above the clouds. He says Blue Skies is a nod to both the Frank Sinatra tune and a thematic feeling that is evident in the body of work.

“I would say it’s unbridled optimism,” says Burggraf. “We haven’t seen that in this country in a long time but there it is.”

Burggraf reaches as far back as 1820 when it comes to finding that optimism. Inspired by the Hudson River School artists, he admires Frederic Church’s ability to work large and expansively. These artists saw early Americaas “a place of sublime beauty,” and through hisown lens, Burgraff works to achieve that same emotional state.

He sees similar themes in painter Edward Hopper’s view of America in the 1940s, particularly with “August in the City,” a painting of a nude woman looking out the window with great excitement. The woman is inside a small apartment gazing at the unseen, and what the viewer could only guess as being the colors, shapes and forms of her surroundings.

“That’s where the life is, it’s outside,” says Burggraf. “It’s going on somewhere else. You can’t see it in the picture but you follow it. That’s real optimism. It’s knowing that around the corner there is going to be something incredible.”

Growing up on a farm in Ohio, Burggraf spent much of his youth outside. Saturated in nature, the colors that surrounded him eventually bled into his work as an artist. Burggraf studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art where he established mentors influenced by the Bauhaus, a German art school that combined crafts with fine arts. His fundamental teachers, Josef Albers and Julian Stanczak formed the basis of how Burggraf thinks about and theorizes color.

“Stanczak was an optical artist,” says Burggraf. “[He’d place] very small units of color one against another usually in lines. The colors would dance and vibrate and cause all kinds of auras to happen.”

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