Ray Strong’s World, Wildling Museum, Solvang
By Kit Boise-Cossart
A collection of thirty landscape paintings by Ray Strong is handsomely on display in the exhibit, “A Collector’s Passion,” at the Wildling Museum of Art & Nature in Solvang.
The owner of the paintings, David Parker, released them from hiding so that us common folk could enjoy a stellar experience with the notable West Coast native son’s artwork. This is a rare privilege.
It was not uncommon for Strong to set the mood for the viewer with a title that artist Nicole Strasburg calls a “descriptor, not a place name.” The feeling of a place rather than the specific GPS coordinates can tell so much, consider the work, “Green Valley Reaching Towards Purple Peak,” from the early 1980s. We’re given a glimpse of how the world looked from Strong’s imaginative eyes.
Born in Oregon in 1905, Strong lived a long and influential life. And although he passed on in 2006, his influence happily continues. A video portraying the artist, his work and legacy loops in the gallery space, a compilation of interviews of Strong and other painters.
Strong was a goodnatured people person. However, one wouldn’t divine that from the work in the show. He painted empty and lonely landscapes in often adverse weather conditions and circumstances. He painted alone or in a small collection of friends. Oak Group’s John Comer told of a windy Santa Cruz Island visit where he and Strong painted separately along a hillside slope above the Santa Barbara Channel. Suddenly, in the distance Comer heard a sailor’s yell “Tharrrr she blows!!” as Strong’s canvas flew off his easel and into the unknown, never to be recovered.
Robust and outspoken about both the natural world and his passion for painting, Strong shared his vision with just about anyone who would listen, myself included. He drew his strength from his painting meditations in the field and encouraged others to do the same by helping start a number of artist’s groups including the Santa Barbara Art Association and the Oak Group.
Strong developed as a young artist in the West during the 1930s, a period of economic, political and cultural stress. At the time, an emerging American School of Social Realism was warring with the new abstract modernism developing in Europe.
The collection clearly demonstrates Strong’s realism in depicting the open land: ranches in “Hollister Ranch, 1975,” farms in “Hay Field, Early 1950s” and undeveloped coastlines in “North Coast – Mendocino Area, 1955.”
His work shared stylistic similarities with contemporary realists. The show’s “Bolinas Farm, 1970” can be likened to California vistas by other artists of the era—paintings by Seldon Conner Gile, such as, “Ranch Scene: Hilarita Ranch,” Emil Kosa’s “Untitled (Farmhouse)” and Tom Craig’s 1933 “Into the Sun.”
While Strong mentored many, he found an inner quiet and solace at the feet of deep and upwardly rising spaces like the “Green Valley Reaching Towards Purple Peaks.”
Parker’s treasure trove of paintings at the Wildling is worth more than a quick look. Plan on a visit, take a walk and come back in for another breath of musings in the comfort of Ray Strong’s natural world.