It was 1967. The late, great Cleve Gray was angry with his painting -- a semi-Cubist composition of black and a bit of green -- because it was "boring." So he threw a bucket of aluminum paint on it that he had lying around, likely from painting a tennis court fence. Luckily, it wasn't ruined, and it wasn't boring anymore.
In fact, the resulting artwork, Silver Diver, became the starting point for a brand-new series by the abstract expressionist painter that experimented with metallic paint, from throwing the paint onto the canvas to using a compressor hose to manipulate the paint and make the splashes. A new exhibition up at McClain Gallery displays a year's worth of this experimentation, with Silver Diver as the centerpiece as well as six works that followed that year (an eighth piece in this series that there wasn't enough room to hang is in a back room of the gallery.)
Appropriately titled "1967 Silver Paintings," the show is a dense one for having just seven works. The large-scale color studies are explosive and radiant to behold, and each one is like a little mystery. How did Gray paint this? What color came first? What was his process? The metallic silver paint itself is also very textured, leaving imprints on the canvas like craters on the moon that you have to get right up close to see.
One of the most engaging aspects of these 45-year-old paintings is the "mistakes" resulting from the process. Gray wasn't always sure how his acid-hued paint splashes and stains would work out on the canvas -- in fact, they were driven by an "I wonder what would happen if I did...?" mentality. Splashing water onto the wet paint left those uneven lunar craters, and other works have rusty stains from the oxidation of the acrylic paint that look like halos of coffee stains around the gorgeous silver. Rather than being distracting, though, these elements only further illustrate this sense of free experimentation. Gray didn't interfere with the work by painting over and erasing these effects. He let the paint do its thing.
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"Cleve Gray: 1967 Silver Paintings" at McClain Gallery, 2242 Richmond, runs now through December 1. For more information, call 713-520-9988 or visit www.mcclaingallery.com.