Russell Wray was born in Rhode Island in 1955. His boyhood exploration of the woods and creeks of Massachusetts, where he grew up, and encounters with the local creatures fed a d\eep interest in, and affection for the land and its non-human inhabitants. He still recalls feeling awestruck perceiving nature’s extreme beauty and fragility, while holding a tiny baby turtle in his hand one blue sky day. But the weather didn’t always permit his outdoor explorations. On these occasions, Russell was often given clay by his mother, a potter, to keep him occupied and out of trouble. He would then fashion little clay animals which she would latter fire in her kiln. This began his love of sculpting, leading to his attending the Massachusetts College of Art.
Mass Art was a turning point in Russell’s life. Sculpting grew to became his passion. It was also there his attention was first drawn to problems facing the environment, when he learned of the threat to the survival of the world’s whales posed by whaling. Whales had always stirred his imagination, and had been the subject of some of his earliest art work. Disturbed by thoughts of a whale-less world, Russell launched into a series of sculptures on the human-whale relationship. It is a series he has returned to over the years, and which has yet to end.
Following school, Russell continued art making while earning his living for a number of years working part-time in welding and woodworking shops. During this time he became increasingly involved as an environmental and political activist, volunteering with several organizations, including several years spent aboard Greenpeace ships as crew-member and resident artist. To this day, he continues investing some of his energies into this work.
Much of what moves Russell to activism also shapes his creative work as well. His love of the natural world shows strongly in his work, both in content and in his medium of choice; wood. “I work primarily in wood. I love the way wood looks, feels, and smells. It is warm, has its own life, and comes with its own stories. Carving wood is an act of joy.”
Moving from the east coast in 1987, Russell spent ten years living and working in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was there where he got his first real studio, and really sank his teeth into sculpting. There too he joined Eli Levin’s Wednesday night etching group, where he experimented with a number of the intaglio processes, eventually finding drypoint and engraving on copper plates to be his favorites. Being able to express his artistic impulses both two and three dimensionally keeps his creative juices flowing, and he finds that the two forms of expression both feed and balance one another.
His last year in New Mexico, Russell met Akemi who was visiting from Japan. They later married, and now make their home, along with Moon Dog, near the shores of Frenchman’s Bay in Hancock, Maine. And here also is the home of Raven Tree Gallery.
I believe that a strong work of art must engage its viewer in two ways; it should say something about the world we live in, and it should say it in a way that makes one want to see it, that is absorbing and draws one in. It may offer more questions than answers. Maybe it is exciting or even beautiful to look at.
I find myself most taken by art that tells me something about the creator of the work, what they think and feel about something, how they look at the world, what perplexes them, and what they care about.
My work has many influences, ranging from that of the late Gothic and early Renaissance artists of northern Europe such as the Master H.L., Tilman Riemenschneider, and the Beham brothers, to more recent sculptors such as Emilio Greco, Pericle Fazzini, Hugo Robus, Leonard Baskin, and on and on and on. I don’t believe in denying my influences. I welcome them in, and hope that what emerges from within me is my own.
I love trees. My sculpture work is mostly in wood. Wood speaks to me. But I also like working in bronze, especially when the sculpture is placed out of doors, in nature. While my sculpture work takes the larger part of my time and energy, printmaking has become an important part of my creative work. Sometimes I find it easier to express what is in me on paper, other times it takes that extra dimension to more fully bring it across. Whatever it takes. I have found that for me, these two modes of expression balance each other very nicely.
While my work is figurative, I strive to make it work on the abstract level. Form, volume, balance, surface tension and texture all come into play and in the end, have a great deal to do with a piece’s failure or success. I’ve always been drawn to the figure, both animal and human animal. Much of my work involves a combination of the two . Myths interest me a great deal, particularly those cultural and religious stories which have shaped our world, not always in positive ways. I may give them a tweak or a twist, to cast a new light on the subject. But while I enjoy this idea play, I don’t see my work as intellectual. I’m more concerned with feelings and gut level emotions. It is about what moves me.
Work in Other Galleries or Collections
38 1/2" h
Terra Cotta, Casein Paint
23 1/2" h
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