Biography of Sandra Lynn Gray
Sandra Lynn Gray
Among my earliest memories are the summers I spent in Sanford with Annie Green Lambeth, my maternal grandmother, painting oil on canvas (picture post cards) side by side; when I was six, my mother, a piano teacher, paid for me to study art. My high school yearbook shows me posing for a beatnik painter as Most Artistic, Class of ’61, and I got a BFA in Studio Art at UNC-G. Then I married a stage director, and for the next thirty years I painted scenery, crafted props, acted (early on), and designed both sets and costumes for the theatre. Most notably, I was Resident Designer at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte from 1986 until 2001, when George built me a backyard studio, and I returned to my roots.
In theatre, one works on a life-large scale (or larger), in three (or four) dimensions of moving matter, with a huge variety of materials and techniques, with dozens of other artists and technicians, to create a collective vision that disappears forever when the curtain falls on closing night. Although I always had a painting on the easel, my day job challenged me to work outside the box.
Children’s theatre in particular had enormous impact on my artistic development. Creating colorful child’s-eye views of children’s fantasies shaped my view of the world. I tend now to think large about my easel art. I feel compelled to experiment with new media. My compositions are simple and bold; my colors are vivid; my stroke is broad. Even my choice of subject matter, although I range from face to flower, bird to beast, still life to land-or-cityscape, owes something to the innocent curiosity and creative imagination of a child.
Actually, after spending my childhood on a fourteen acre botanical garden created and tended by my botanist father, my most cherished and resolute subject is a wildflower. I walked with him through fields and forests, and attended meetings of the North Carolina Wildflower Preservation Society, at which he frequently presided. I learned that people show concern for endangered animals, but consider flowers to be little more than weeds. In their natural state, they blend in with their environment, helpless on the floor of our nearby woodlands, meadows, and wetlands, waiting for the bulldozer. That’s why I paint them bigger than life, in vivid, unrealistic colors to represent the terror of their eminent extinction.
Among the countless other influences on my oeuvre, I should note three years abroad, thanks to George and the Army. With undergraduate courses in art history fresh in my mind, seeing the works of the masters in galleries all over Europe inspired me to learn from first hand observation. The Post Impressionists in particular, with their bold painterly styles and untamed use of color, gave me a new personal approach to my paintings. Each piece becomes an exercise, a puzzle to solve, a design to order, a composition to unify, no less significant to me than a hypothesis to a mathematician or a new formula to a chemist.
Although I’ve studied many forms of art—printmaking, water color, sculpture—oils are the essence of my self-expression. I have a sentimental attachment to linseed oil and distilled turpentine, the feel of the brush, the scents of the paints. When I work with paint I feel a different identity. When my work is going well, I’m filled with a sense of strength. I live with a painting like a roommate, tweaking it if necessary, until I feel really comfortable about it. Then I can call it finished.