(1944 - )
Landscape and the natural world provide important inspiration for contemporary painters, just as they have since people first began creating art. Traditional representations have, however, gradually given way to the nonobjective views of modern artists, who accentuate a spiritual and symbiotic relationship to the natural world as a source of legitimacy in their art. Ray Kass takes nature as the starting point for his painting, examining its dual role in the life of man—as a symbol of the cosmos and transcendent existence but also as defining the individual and his place in the world. The physical structure of Kass’ works—small panels assembled to create a larger composition—mirrors the relationship of the individual to the natural world.
Kass is an artist, writer, and teacher who has been a painter since the late 1960s, when he studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 1984 he has taught at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blackburg, Virginia. While developing his own style, he studied and wrote about the work of other artists such as Morris Graves (1910–2001) and John Cage (1912–1992). In 1983 he founded The Mountain Lake Workshop, which is a series of interdisciplinary collaborations by artists and scientists dedicated to the development of nonobjective works of art. In the workshops, participants experiment with alternative ways of creating contemporary art, using the environmental and technological resources of the New River Valley and the Appalachian region in their projects.
Kass was a formalist painter before he embraced nature as the subject of his art. His training at the University of North Carolina did not provide an academic approach, but one emphasizing the evolution of style through contact with other artists and intellectual exploration. When Kass began to practice drawing techniques, he used conventional methods transmitted to him by other artist friends. This approach clearly suited his needs and his philosophy of art. “As a teacher,” he wrote, “I came to emphasize you have to start with yourself in art—that you can’t teach sincere artistic motive—but only give students tools. Most academic teaching conveys an aesthetic standard and goal—an art product—that is embedded in the exercises/techniques and values they emphasize.” (1) Kass’ art embodies the elements of chance and intuition in the methods he uses to create it.
(1) This information is taken from e-mail correspondence with the artist, 4 March 2004, artist’s file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Archives.
American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, cat. no. 104, p. 240.