Christy Gray: Liquid Invitation at BAYarts
Art can’t actually invite people to look at it. It’s up to us to look, and then decide whether we want to spend the time to pay more attention. But it’s the artist whose intention, labor, and technique gives us a reason to do that, and in Christy Gray’s recent Liquid Invitation, which was on view July – August 3 at BAYarts, there were plenty of reasons to pay attention, and look again.
By day, in addition to making art, Gray connects artists to commissions, corporate collections, and public art opportunities, both through her own company GrayHaus studios, and a new venture targeting residential communities, called Art Every Space.
In her off-time, she is an avid paddleboarder, finding inspiration in the water along Cleveland’s North Coast. Her connection to the water, and attendant environmental consciousness, are reflected in her works.
Although paddle boarding is a physically demanding activity, it is also a mental one. It requires a calm state in order to breathe properly and balance on the board. In some instances, one might feel the need to momentarily hold their breath in order to regain their center of balance and not fall into the waters. For Gray – as is evident in Liquid Invitation – it is a time of deep tranquility, quietude, and reflection.
Gray’s small-scale pieces with the titular name incorporate a variety of media – photography, acetate film, embroidery floss, and flowers. Each piece in this series is unique, and calls the viewer to explore with as much intentionality as Gray traverses the lake shores. Her ability to finely incorporate various media in one small work is quite impressive. In some of these, she crafts an image over a photograph of a body of water by stitching embroidery floss directly through it. One can imagine that this particular portion of the artistic process might have required Gray to control her breathing or even hold it for a few seconds while trying to thread the needle through the underlying image. In this sense, it is reminiscent of the act of paddle boarding in that it requires physical and mental stamina. For the viewer, this finely crafted and highly skilled aspect of the artwork invites them to lean even closer to the work’s surface which in turn may require some sort of breath control so as to not fog up the protective glass.
Gray uses acetate film to create a layer over her photographic images that typically depict a serene waterscape. Apart from the creation of a clever dialogue between photographic mediums, the majority of these film cutouts resemble hanging branches and flowers, and their semi-transparent quality mixed with their vibrant color palettes creates an even stronger invitation to look into the depth of each work. In some cases, the film branches undulate and spill over off of the central image, reminding us of nature’s unpredictable forms and shapes. The addition of acetate film specifically, can serve as a reminder of Gray’s commitment to the environment and taking material that is essentially unnatural and using it to beautify a natural space.
In contrast to the use of embroidery floss and acetate film, Gray incorporates actual flowers, specifically Hydrangeas, into a few of her Liquid Invitation pieces and in a larger scale piece entitled In the Cool Air. In this latter work, the photograph is completely covered with Hydrangea leaves which creates an almost completely naturalistic tone, even though there is an underlying photograph and some thread in the center. This is a stand out piece in the exhibition by virtue of the overwhelming amount of natural material. In some ways, the floss can be looked at as less of a man-made material as well, but the Hydrangea leaves add a necessary element that keeps the viewer in touch with Gray’s ecological disposition.
The few unframed works in Liquid Invitation are of larger scale and almost exclusively incorporate stitched cotton. They hang off the gallery wall in such a way that recalls the undulation of water or a steady breeze. For instance, in Across a Still Lake, Gray created a printed image of a lake on cotton and overlaid it with stitched branches. The cohesive piece rolls off the wall as if it was itself alive and flowing. In Attention to the Quiet, she does something similar without the printed image but with a green acetate film branch. Here, the thin film branch, which is not kept behind glass as it was in the frame, evokes a naturalistic sensation – even the slightest breeze in the room can make the leaves move. This tactile quality of the cotton pieces is inviting for the viewer as a body of water might be on a larger scale.
The variety of works and the diverse mediums make the exhibition something special. Gray has a clear ability to take any natural or artistic material and turn it into a vibrant and dynamic image that invites us to find solace and centeredness in our inspiring rivers and lakes right outside of the gallery walls. Whether we choose to explore these waters on a paddleboard is up to each of us.