Luna Lee Ray
Artist, Teacher, Mentor, Gardener
Beloved art teacher (teaching five days a week at the Arts Center in Carrboro) with a loyal following, mentor, founding FRANK artist and curator, Luna Lee Ray moves seamlessly between flora and fauna and abstraction in her paintings.
Her acrylic-based mixed media paintings usually incorporate collage, graphite and charcoal. Explains Ray; “I build up a rich, layered surface, allowing the image to develop a history and a mysteriousness.
“My process is a combination of being inspired by the world around me, maybe even having a specific image or moment in mind, and also allowing for the exploration of materials and the element of chance,” she says.
Before landing in North Carolina, Ray led a peripatetic life. She grew up in Queens and Long Island but, at 16, headed west to Portland, Oregon, to live with her uncle. She took art classes there and earned her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts at The Pacific Northwest College of Art, majoring in printmaking and also studying painting and photography. In college, Ray says she was more influenced by her exposure to art studies and learning different techniques than by any particular teacher or artist.
She was, however, inspired by Georgia O’Keefe and Man Ray, as much for their gutsy decisions to move to fertile artistic ground and pursue their art, as for their art itself. For O’Keefe it was New Mexico; for Man Ray, it was Paris. For Luna Lee Ray, it was a small home with a garden in North Carolina.
After Portland, Ray adventured to Kauai, Hawaii, and lived and worked on an organic farm, sleeping in a tent for the six months she was there. “It was heaven,” Ray says - but not so much the sleeping in a tent part. From Hawaii, Ray successively lived in Eugene, Oregon, and Bisbee and Tucson, Arizona, as well as Albuquerque New Mexico – all the while making art, teaching and working at health food stores as the resident herbalist. She still raises her own herbs and makes herbal tinctures. Ray’s location hopping was in the service of finding the right place to settle and make art. “I loved the desert southwest,” she says, “but I couldn’t garden there.”
“I came to North Carolina,” she explains, “because I heard good things about Asheville.” This was the Asheville of 20 years ago, and Ray was not impressed, so she traveled the state and found her art oasis in Carrboro. Once she bought her Carrboro home with a bit of land, she put down roots, both figuratively and literally. An avid gardener, she turned her yard into a small paradise of flowering plants, shrubs and herbs. Ray’s new NC home inspired her crow and deer paintings. “The crows always came to my yard,” Ray says, “so I started painting them. Usually I have to have an experience with an animal before I can paint it. Sometimes that can happen in a dream.
“I always did botanical and abstract work,” says Ray. But a visit to a Florida bird refuge took Ray in a new direction. She says of one visit, “it was overcast, misty, and the light would be filtered through the air, so my current interest is in air, moisture and light and how these elements interact and change with the weather and the time of day. There are two main explorations in the current show: summer rain, experienced morning, afternoon and evening, and the waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge, inspired by my most recent trip to Portland.”