Finding perspective within
COLUMBIA, Mo 5/1/14 (Profile) -- On the night of a recent milestone birthday, my wife and a group of friends that included the artist Kate Gray wined and dined me at Tellers downtown while announcing a particular honor:  We would walk to Orr Street Studios for an exclusive preview of Kate's latest show.  

The studio was pitch dark as we approached the double glass doors, where Kate used a key and I was the second or third person to walk in.

"Surprise!"  The lights came up to 60 or so friends standing with cards, gifts, cakes, adult beverages, and all the makings of an awesome party my wife orchestrated, keeping the secret for months.  

It's not the first time Kate -- our Heart Beat Artist for the Month of May -- has surprised me, or her fans.  A 2014 Best of Columbia visual artist, her watercolors and delicate sculptures beckon the viewer to look, see, and most importantly, find perspective within, through shadows; through lenses that seem slightly out of focus; through imaginary prisms and optical illusions.  The effect is a careful assemblage of reality, sometimes in layers. 

A full moon, a camera at Stewart Park, and an open shutter 30 seconds long prompted Gray to capture a "daydream at dusk" in the watercolor at this link.   Both simple and real, the tree, chair, and shadows also have abstract qualities.  It's like looking through that slightly unfocused lens past fine details just out of reach as light and color take center stage.  

Her watercolor Honoring the Past, Treasuring the Future exhibits a similar effect, but this time shadows dominate, obscuring old photos on the wall (the honored past) while lamplight in the darkness suggests the road ahead. 

Gray's Bella Truth and Bella Blue Unknown capture a prism effect that segments each watercolor into layers and angles.  Perhaps the artist is suggesting that even amidst the inanimate -- walls, windows, a portrait with a hint of religion -- a multidimensional perspective brings fuller understanding. 

The watercolor A Moment to Reflect is a very different experience, and immediately reminded me of Andrew Wyeth's masterpiece "Christina's World."   But where Wyeth portrays a woman of longing, Gray paints the satisfaction of quiet thought, contentment in repose.  The colors and shadows are muted here; earth tones predominate; and the sense of abstraction is evident throughout. 
When I write Artist of the Month stories, I'm sometimes asked if I have a favorite piece.   That's a hard question with artists like Gray, who work in multiple formats.  

Not only was she one of the artistic pioneers who turned Columbia city utility boxes into street corner masterpieces, but Gray also creates in a medium she calls "Watercolor Sculpture."   There I do have a Gray fave: Notes to Self, a grand abstraction she created after posting a figurative "note to herself."

"As I stood back and stared at the pure white virgin paper, I froze," she writes about the piece.  "I can't do this. What in the world will I paint?"  

"It is times like that when we have no idea what is really inside until we dive in, explore it, and give it life." 

[Past Heart Beat Artists of the Month include painter Marilyn Cummins; photographer Anastasia Pottinger; painter Rodney Burlingame; actor and director Ed Hanson; painter Byron Smith; painter Catherine Parke; and mixed media artists Jenny McGee and Lizzie Bryan.]