After her father died three years ago, Amy Ray acquired some of his papers, including a thick folder from his days in the U.S. Air Corps. Fastidious in his life and work, Ralph Ray saved everything, and in this folder he kept various academic records, including graded homework, exams and study guides from grammar school to high school and beyond. “It was obviously something that had great meaning to him,” Amy Ray said. “He saved it 70 years or so.”
An artist from Monmouth, Amy Ray incorporates some of her father’s papers in her latest work, “Point of Departure,” on view Friday through Dec. 9 at the Mechanics Hall in Portland. She uses his papers as a jumping off point to create new work, a combination of collage and drawing that honors her father by using his words and images as a foundation to explore a larger visual narrative. The exhibition includes a dozen pieces textured with typewritten notes, diagrams and doodles.
“It was really cathartic to take that stuff and honor it and build on it and let myself be free. I could not have done it when he was alive,” Ray said. “This is giving it meaning and liberating it from this folder and getting it on the wall and saying, ‘There’s who he is,’ and ‘Here’s who I am.’ ”
The finished pieces took on their own visual language. She cut up some of her father’s pages, which were marked by handwriting that was tidy and neat, and created new shapes and images, building up the texture and surfaces. It’s abstract work that tells a parent-child story that nearly everyone can relate to.
She found only two pages with doodles on them. “Just a couple of times he let his dream world poke up,” she said. One of those dreams was a sports car, and when he got back from the service, Ralph Ray bought what his daughter calls “a very sexy sports car.”
In addition to a dozen finished pieces, Ray also is showing some of her father’s notebooks.
He died in July 2014, at age 92, and lived responsibly for all of his adult life. He inherited man-of-the-house duties when his father died when he was 17 and trained pilots to fly open-cockpit biplanes. After World War II, he returned home to Eastport where he started a plumbing and heating business and where, according to his obituary, he was “known for his hard work, strong commercial acumen and honesty.”
Ray pays tribute to her father’s hard work, acumen and honesty in “Point of Departure” while adding her own visual twist. She and her father were very different people, and this body of work is her way of acknowledging how he saw the world while also liberating herself from it.
The Portland exhibition marks the second time she has shown this work. The first time was at a pop-up event in Augusta in the spring. “With this body of work, people seem to want to talk about it,” she said. “Some people seemed to be quite emotional about it. I hope it touches people. You tell a story, and you want people to hear it.”
She is particularly pleased to show the work in Portland at the Mechanics Hall. It’s a building that has “a kind of male history to it,” she said. “It seemed like a perfect spot. I showed there last year, and it was a great experience. It’s a scholarly kind of room, which seemed appropriate. That’s where my father was comfortable, learning and teaching.”
WHERE: Mechanics Hall, 519 Congess St., Portland
WHEN: Opens with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday; closing reception from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dec. 9
HOW MUCH: Free