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Guest colum - My passion for Carl Ray's paintings by The Joy Formidable' Ritzy Bryan

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With The Joy Formidable returning with a new single, Cholla, on Monday (22 October), the trio’s frontwoman, Ritzy Bryan, has written us a guest column about one of her sources of inspiration, favourite painter Carl Ray.

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Spring 2010, strolling the wide avenues of Toronto, I first chanced upon the paintings of Carl Ray. Around the corner from the Ice Hockey Hall of Fame, is the Bay Of Spirits Gallery, a space that specialises in contemporary First Nations art.

The First Nations are the aboriginal people of Canada, of which there are many tribes, many communities, an abundance of culture, customs, art and languages. 
This gallery, albeit a snapshot of something far greater had me transfixed immediately. I’m excited by art, curious about the story and the background but typically my appraisal falls into two distinct pots. Admiration, based on technique, objective and originality or out and out love because it speaks to me and pulls every one of my aesthetic fibres. The latter is how I felt when I saw Carl Ray’s paintings.

Carl Ray was born in 1943 on the Sandy Lake First Nation reserve in Northern Ontario. If you googlemap this address, it appears as a dot in the middle of nowhere, true wilderness and here’s me thinking I had a rural upbringing in the valleys of North Wales. It appears that he showed a lot of early promise as an artist, but the traditions of his Cree community forbid him from painting the stories or legends of his people. It wasn’t until he left the reservation that he began honing his distinctive woodland style, strong outlines of earthy colours, rich in symbolism and animal imagery.

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I stared for a long time at a painting called Communication. It shows the outline of a woman in the water, she is part of the landscape, the ducks perch on her like they do rocks on a lake. A moose kneels over her, their mouths are connected by an abstract shape that mimics the sun, they’re sharing energy, understanding, the bond of a man and an animal.

Carl Ray said that when people look at his paintings they see a part of his soul. 
I read this afterwards, my reaction to his paintings had already proven it true. 
What I also gleaned after leaving the gallery could largely romanticise him as a tragic figure, artistically overlooked and murdered at a young age, but it’s not posthumous sentiment that drives my passion for his paintings.

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I think he’s one of the greatest in his field, there’s character rooted in his art, the way you can feel him at the centre of every image, unfolding his memories; the stories and settings of a childhood on the banks of Sandy Lake.

Ritzy Bryan@ritzyformidable

For more from the band head to Thejoyformidable.com.


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