An Interview with Artist Lynda Ray

August, 2011


I did a large group of work in which I explored a single shape, repeating it over and over in a mechanical manner across a substrate. I wondered what would happen—would something grow out of this process that would surprise me? For Book of Dimma and Triune, I cut out a piece of corrugated cardboard, inked it and stamped it onto vellum. I liked the skin-like quality of vellum, its transparency, strength and yet its light weight.

 Book of Dimma, ink on vellum,
56 x 36 cm (22 x 14 in), 1993
 Triune, ink on vellum, 51 x 28 cm
(20 x 11 in), 1993

JK: During the late 80s and early 90s, you would visit New Mexico. Living in an East Coast urban environment, did the New Mexico landscape continue to influence your work?

LR: I traveled between Boston and New Mexico, spending three to four months in New Mexico yearly from 1988 until 1994. The New Mexican landscape influenced me then as it does now—the open space, the subtle color shifts, the variety of textures that separate and unite plants, animals and architecture. And having gotten to know Agnes Martin during those years and hearing her wisdom has had a large impact on me. She was quick to note that the best work comes from a moment of inspiration. I admired her strength and focus, and think back at times to her advice.

Agnes told me she used a six inch ruler to make lines across her canvases. I was surprised—her work did not reveal this precision unless you looked very carefully. Her work was very large, and it amazed me that she was using such a small instrument to work her way across the canvas. I, too, was using repeating marks, though my materials were more varied. For example, in works like Pattern Chain, I would pour wax through a stencil in a repetitive, mechanical way. I used beautiful sheets of scrap aluminum that, interestingly, had been used in printing newspapers, calendars and magazines. They were detritus from my Northeast city, materials that reflected my urban environment, the machine, the mechanical. To complete the piece I would pour India ink over the metal and wax where it would resist and pool.

 Pattern Chain, encaustic and India ink on metal,
41 x 36 cm (16 x 14 in), 1993-95
 Pattern Chain detail

The underlying grid was incised with a blade. Covering this regularly divided field in a way that is imprecise, human and full of flaws, I’m looking for a meeting of a machine-like quality and the human touch.

Triangle Fret, encaustic and India ink on metal,
66 x 53 cm (26 x 21 in), 1994-95
Triangle Fret detail

The painting, Centric Fire, is like a concrete visualization of how I work. I see the trajectory of my work as a spiral—here proceeding clockwise around a circle—with different positions reflecting different interests or series. Like recurring phases of the moon, I return to earlier interests at different points in time. Also I often do what I call “orphan pieces”—works that differ from my current series and that I return to years later to continue the exploration.

Centric Fire
Centric Fire, encaustic on metal, 86 x 112 cm (34 x 44 in), 1996

Sculptural work became less important to me when in 1994, I moved to New York City where I was surrounded by sculpture. I thought more about creating space within a painted surface instead of making object-like paintings.

JK: In Sacred Circuit you continue to use encaustic, though now brightly pigmented.

LR: This is really a touchstone piece. When in New Mexico, I’m interested in the landscape, the patterns of Native American pottery and baskets, the colors. These interests are reflected in Sacred Circuit, the central shape suggesting an inverted mesa. Yet the busyness of the piece, the claustrophobic pattern, also reflect my urban roots.

Sacred Circuit
Sacred Circuit, encaustic on panel, 41 x 41 cm (16 x 16 in), 1998

A painting like Folded Glow reflects my experience of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. It’s a thrill to walk right up to a canyon wall, stretch out my arms, look to the sky and feel the incredible power of that landscape. The canyon is carved out of the land by river, which has receded to a small arroyo. It had penetrated the earth and revealed the layers or strata. I wasn’t consciously thinking about this terrain when I made this body of work, but I can certainly see the relationship. These paintings also reflect my ongoing interest in patterns and stripes. Bending the stripes and thereby creating a shallow space fascinated me.

Folded Glow
Folded Glow, encaustic on panel, 41 x 61 cm (16 x 24 in), 2000

JK: These encaustics are quite lush.

LR: Yes, they are lush. This comes from my love of materials and the translucent nature of this medium. Color, light and its energy are consistent concerns for me.

Encaustic paint, when hot, is very smooth and acts like most any other paint, but when it cools, it hardens quickly. This allows me to build up separate luminous layers quickly and create texture as the wax cools. This quality lends itself to rich color, textured surfaces and the physicality that have always been among my interests.

                 First Ladder               First Ladder detail
First Ladder, encaustic, 76 x 102 cm (30 x 40 in), 2000First Ladder detail

I had first used an oil-based wax mixed with oil paint and a palette knife as a tool. Then in 1986, a friend sent me a block of encaustic medium—beeswax and damar resin crystals. I made paint from this medium, mixing it with concentrated bars of color and applying it with a heated palette knife. Encaustic is very versatile, and I love the glowing colors that occur when pigment is suspended in it.

Lynda Ray working with encaustics
Lynda Ray working with encaustic paint

JK: Some paintings in this series are done in oils and are quite large.

LR: Confronted with a painting that is larger than you, it becomes an environment. I wanted to try having less control, and working large involves more of a whole body experience. Working large, I don’t feel that the painting is a small object in my environment—it’s more like the experience I feel in desert canyons.

Facing East
Facing East, oil on canvas, 76 x 102 cm (38 x 64 in), 2001

I found that as one moves around the larger works, one’s perspective changes, and this led me to some 3D work. The forms are similar to those in the paintings, but instead of creating the illusion of an object in space, why not create the object itself as I’d often done before.

Fire Root, ink, encaustic, on canvas-wrapped wood
structure, (17 x 12 x 7 in), 200
Citreous Glow, encaustic on canvap-wrapped wood
structure, (18 x 11 x 5 in), 2001

I moved from Boston to New York City in 1994, where I lived until 2002. Soon after experiencing the attack on the World Trade Center from my apartment window, I began incorporating floating shapes into these large paintings. I wanted to explore the sense of space after a world-changing event. I maintained a background of striped columns with forms flying out in front as the objects of interest.

In 2002 I moved to Richmond, Virginia where I currently live.

Blue Corner
Blue Corner, oil on canvas, 127 x 152 cm (50 x 60 in), 2001

JK: You did some works where you omitted the vertical columns completely.

LR: Yes. Interval and Expanse are encaustic paintings done on multiple panels. The large striped backgrounds are replaced by open space.

Interval, encaustic on panel, 91 x 97 cm (36 x 38 in), 2003

Here again, my interest is in creating forms in space—on the one hand creating deep space within the painting and on the other, addressing the painting as itself an object in space. I broke up the plane into smaller rectangles, thus emphasizing the objecthood of the piece.

JK: In Expanse, you also cut into one panel, sharply disrupting the plane’s overall regularity.

LR: Yes, I wanted to further the idea of a painting existing as both illusion and object.

Expanse, encaustic on panel, 91 x 97 cm (36 x 38 in), 2003

JK: You also have made many small encaustic paintings filled by areas of the striped vertical columns you’ve worked with for years.

LR: I remember thinking that I wanted to focus more directly on pattern, color, and light and dark. And each piece could be placed in a variety of relationships with others. They could be arranged in a horizontal line, a vertical column, or they could flow around a corner.

Tier, encaustic, 20 x 20 cm
(8 x 8 in), 2004
Dark Fired, encaustic, 20 x 20 cm
(8 x 8 in), 2004
Double Shadow, encaustic, 20 x 20 cm
(8 x 8 in), 2004

The small works led to larger paintings and made me think about chunks of architecture. In Macrocast, I’m again visiting the idea of forms floating in front of columnar shapes. I wanted spatial contradictions and distortions in how the forms apparently align with one another.

Macrocast, encaustic, 91 x 91 cm (36 x 36 in), 2006

Radiant Ladder is one of a number of works in which I have established a regular pattern of columns, and a wild shape pops up from the bottom of the canvas and extends up and across in front of the pattern.

Radiant Ladder
Radiant Ladder, encaustic, 51 x 61 cm (20 x 24 in), 2006

In Blue Ripple and several related works, I created trace outlines of forms superimposed against a uniform background of rippling chevrons. Here I’m interested in patterns and forms in nature, in both the macro- and microscopic.

Blue Ripple
Blue Ripple, encaustic, 102 x 122 cm (40 x 48 in), 2007

These paintings appear to have geometric shapes or systems floating above the picture plane, existing in their own spaces.

Cinnabar, encaustic, 102 x 122 cm (40 x 48 in), 2007

These works reflect my interest in how invisible and visible natural and manmade systems exist and relate to one another other. In these paintings, I’m making visible some systems that are invisible to the naked eye alongside of some that we can see. The concealed systems may be underground or may be like radio waves or others not visible to us. Examples include cell phone signals, underground electric cables, horizontal natural systems such as underground rivers and mineral deposits, as well as the vertical strata of rock layers that record in their layers the passage of time

Saltcave, encaustic, 30 x 46 cm (12 x 18 in), 2008

JK: We continue to see your interest in repeating patterns—diverse patterns lushly embodied.

LR: Here I’m working with cut mylar where overlapping shapes cover the printing plate and form a low relief, like a collograph. I then apply color to the plate and print. The monotypes and the encaustic works that follow are similar in the process of their development and in the nature of their figure/ground relationships. In both, the shapes in the center grow out of the overall built-up pattern of background shapes.

 Chickory RedWave Vector
Chickory Red, monotype, 51 x 38 cm (20 x 15 in), 2009Wave Vector, monotype, 56 x 46 cm (22 x 18 in), 2009

Similarly with Redback and Enclose, I created a highly textured surface of encaustic, brushing layers of paint over a pattern of dots that grew like stalagmites. I then scraped back through these layers to rediscover areas of pattern and color.

Redback, encaustic, 23 x 28 cm (9 x 11 in), 2009

JK: Again we see your interest in the patterns found in both manmade systems and Nature and their interactions.

LR: Yes. With these pieces I realize that I was looking at industrial buildings that were abandoned and crumbling that Nature was breaking down.

Enclose, encaustic on panel, 23 x 28 cm (9 x 11 in), 2009

On my way to the studio, I would pass by decaying buildings where the gas company had once processed raw materials from the earth. Now the land was reclaiming these structures as they sank into the field. Gas tanks were partially submerged, and patterns began to form on the land left by structures that no longer existed.

Ripple Effect Ripple Effect detail
Ripple Effect, encaustic on panel, 41 x 51 cm (16 x 20 in), 2009            Ripple Effect detail

The seasons changed, and snow covered everything.

Iceflow, encaustic on panel, 46 x 61 cm (18 x 24 in), 2010

What remained were patterns in the snow. Iceflow and Terreplein suggest the effects of natural forces on manmade structures.

Terreplein, encaustic on panel, 46 x 61 cm (18 x 24 in), 2010

JK: Your interest in the patterns found in Nature, those that we humans create and the their seemingly endless possibilities of reciprocal influence and change would appear to offer you a vast terrain for continued observation, exploration and inspiration.

LR: As a working artist, I explore the world around me and those observations enter my pieces. My process evolves as I continue to paint almost every day, discovering new visual ideas. I feel extremely fortunate to be doing what I love.

Lynda Ray
Lynda Ray in front of the painting, Sawtooth

More information about the artist at 

Interview images and text copyright © 2011 Julie Karabenick & Lynda Ray. All Rights Reserved.

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