First Snow, 2012
Casein on panel
Courtesy of the artist and Caldbeck Gallery, Rockland, Maine
ALAN BRAY : AT THE EDGES
While Alan Bray’s paintings possess elements of realism, there are distinctive shifts of perspective and simplification of forms that characterize the artist’s highly individual approach to his process and subjects. Bray’s stylized landscapes are imbued with a sense of mystery, solitude and stillness. Locations around his central Maine home are the inspiration for his works. These offer a dramatic contrast to the prevailing depiction of Maine’s rocky coastline and harbors explored by many other artists. Bray’s landscapes emerge out of a deep familiarity with, and a prolonged immersion in, these less traveled surroundings. Through keen awareness and observation, the essence of these places is realized. Inspired by Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, Bray creates seemingly quiet scenes which are, in reality, rich with ever shifting natural phenomena. These paintings capture unexpected moments – a lush bubbling spring lined with snow, a rectangular cluster of vivid orange trees encircled by a forest of brown, and a mysterious path cut through grass by heavy boots.
Bray has worked with casein, a hard to find milk-based paint, since his studies in Italy in the 1970s. His chosen medium and process are well suited to the way in which the compositions evolve. Bray often plans out a work on a slate blackboard and spends time ruminating on the painting’s structure. He then commences with the labor intensive process of applying successive layers of thin paint. The beauty and challenge of the casein is that the layers dry quickly and one is able to work for hours. Areas are, at times, sanded down and reworked. The final images emerge only after extensive work and a buildup of layers which expose the unique attributes of the casein. Bray’s paintings of familiar places convey the ebb and flow of natural phenomena; and depict moments of the profound beauty that often lie at the edges of our perception.
Through the generosity of the artist and numerous collectors, the over 20 works assembled at UMMA offer a glimpse into one of Maine’s most respected contemporary landscape painters.