First Friday

Dray’s “No Picassos” traces the artist’s decade-long impact

Dray’s No Picassos
"Every Woman"

"Every Woman"

Many Las Vegas residents are already familiar with San Francisco-based artist Andre Wilmore; they just don't know it. To them, he's just Dray, and for the past decade many of his murals have electrified the Vegas valley.

A short list of Dray's contributing arts-community duties includes: gallery owner, First Friday board member, urban and outsider-art advocate and founding member of the now legendary 5 Finger Miscount street-artist collective. Dray's efforts have undeniably invigorated our ever-fledgling arts scene, and the residual impact of his presence continues to pulse through the community after his departure.

Given the tumultuous year the local arts community has witnessed, it's fitting, if not inspired, that Laura Henkel Fine Art is celebrating the community-driven artist's creative production with a 10-year retrospective solo exhibition, No Picassos in Vegas.

Dating from 2001 but with an emphasis on recent work, the scope of paintings remains broad enough to give a solid sense of where Dray has been and where he is going. The subject matter is pretty consistent: the street, the music and the ladies. The artist's style is an unmistakable fusion of Cubism and street art, very cool and very urban, exalting and analyzing the female form from every possible angle.

Dray clearly favors an earthy brown palette and a planar abstraction that suggests the influence of Picasso and Braque. He employs the cubist technique of depicting multiple planes simultaneously, so the viewer experiences the figure in full. Bodies and body parts appear in constant motion — a dynamism that infuses musicality and the rhythm of urban living. Arabesque line work crisscrosses surfaces riddled with curvy hips and curving saxophones.

The Details

No Picassos in Vegas
Three and a half stars
Through March 31
Wednesday-Friday, 2-5 p.m.; Saturday, noon-4 p.m.
Laura Henkel Fine Art
107 E. Charleston, Suite 100, 952-9656
Other shows worth seeing
Reduced Part I
Work by Daniel Habegger and RC Wonderly III
Winchester Cultural Center Gallery, through April 9
A Repository of Drumlins, From the Glittering Golden Mists to Prehistoric Boundary Markers
Work by Lisa Bigalke
Charleston Heights Arts Center, through May 15
En Escena
Work by Leonardo Aguirre di Matteo
Trifecta Gallery, through April 30


"In the Studio"

"In the Studio"

The older work featured here is a bit overstylized and hit or miss, but it never fails to deliver a daring and raw record of this primarily self-trained artist hitting the ground running in a variety of styles and mediums. But San Francisco appears to agree with Dray — the new work is more deliberate and consistent.

A selection of untitled drawings on velum from 2009 surpasses earlier efforts, Dray's sketchy hand energized and observant. The mash-up of cubist and illusionistic space suggests an artist moving confidently beyond the stylized application of paint that replicates a "look," evolving into a real and personal analysis of space and place. This evolution culminates in "Rebirth" and "We Vibe," both dated 2010. Euphoric and hopeful, the surface of these paintings explode a la Joseph Stella, as desert browns give way to the multifaceted Technicolor planes of a city by the Bay. These pieces are more synthetic, but with a compositional sensitivity that conveys joy and–dare I say it? — spirituality.

I couldn't take my eyes off a beautiful series of three small drawings entitled "Queen" 1, 2, and 3, respectively (also 2010). Essentially three deceptively simple portraits of a woman, these drawings are perhaps the most intimate and skillfully rendered of any of the work seen here. These studies grant the rich experience of one specific woman from several perspectives, rather than the anonymous Woman/Body of much of the other work. Reminiscent of Barkley L. Hendricks' riveting portraiture but with a contemporary streetwise twist, the "Queen" series retains Dray's sensual urban vibe without relying exclusively on his cubist-inflected technique.

Fittingly, Laura Henkel Fine Art occupies the same bustling, modest gallery space inside the Arts Factory that 5 Finger Miscount once called home. The Arts Factory — hell, the entire city — is filled with artists who work hard to create more creative opportunities for themselves, their peers and this community. These efforts can overshadow the studio work of many artists, and more often than not, the energy required to maintain momentum proves detrimental to productivity. It's too easy to forget that most gallery owners and arts administrators in this town are also artists themselves.

That's what makes No Picassos in Vegas such a pleasure. Dray may not live here anymore, but he is admired for his contributions to this arts community. It is a welcome luxury to set that aside in favor of the simple enjoyment of Dray the artist. I'll be honest: This work is not exactly my cup of tea, but Dray's commitment is undeniable, his passion infectious. In a town notoriously tough on artists, No Picassos in Vegas highlights 10 years of resilient dedication to painting and drawing that artfully traces the evolution of one artist's singular vision. I can't think of a better reason to celebrate.


Danielle Kelly

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