New paintings by Martha’s Vineyard’s Enos Ray at Chilmark Bank

"New Orleans #1" by Enos Ray. — Photo by Brooks Robards

West Tisbury artist Enos Ray opens a new show at the Chilmark branch of the Bank of Martha’s Vineyard on Friday, July 5. The abstract expressionist is well known on Martha’s Vineyard for his unique oil paintings of jazz musicians, African-American culture in the South, and landscapes, drawn from 14 years of painting while on the road. A reception will be held from 4 to 6 pm on July 5 at the bank.

One of the largest of the 11 works that will be on exhibit through July 12 is a powerful urban landscape of a New Orleans-style building with its characteristic wrought-iron railing on the second story. While architecturally oriented paintings often seem dry and unemotional, Mr. Ray has animated his building with colors and an angled composition that pop out at the eye.

The Virginia native spent many years painting what he observed of Black folk culture and music. “Georgie at Three” emanates from the artist’s remembrances of New Orleans. In this work, a single face grounds the swirling, almost totally abstract composition with stripes reminiscent of prison garb.

“I never know what it’s going to be,” Mr. Ray says of how he works. “Whoever it is who’s in charge, that’s what runs my show. It all comes at once.” He relies on primary colors, working quickly but always with confident brushwork.

Mr. Ray has built up a repertoire of Black musical performers, and one of his latest is a stocky guitarist who faces the viewer head-on, his instrument held high across his chest and belly. In another portrait, a woman wearing what looks like a pink slip turns sideways away from the viewer, her black upper arm, thigh, and head making statements of strength against a pastel background. As in so much of the artist’s work, nothing remains static; line and color keep the eye moving from one section of the painting to the next. Mr. Ray says he didn’t even realize at first that he was painting a figure.

Some of Mr. Ray’s landscapes contain racehorses, which he believes come from his memories of his father singing “Camp Town Races” to him as a child. Growing up in Virginia, he and a friend often rode their horses to Frog Town, a small Black community along the Shenandoah River not far from home. Many of the landscapes on display, always peopled in lively fashion with horses, other animals, children, boats, and workers, come from these early experiences.

A Martha’s Vineyard resident since 1979, Mr. Ray often traveled back and forth through the South over the years, and “Letters to Shannon” is compiled from the letters and drawings he sent back to his daughter, Shannon Rynd-Ray, now a Vineyard photographer. The painter has written two unpublished, illustrated novels, “Gospel Road,” and “Letters to Shannon,” inspired by his travels in the South. He is a prolific draftsman.

Mr. Ray exhibited last year at Ruth Adams’s gallery, The Treehouse, in North Tisbury. His work and that of his friend and companion of 15 years, painter Kitty Murphy, has appeared in the recent past at the Stanley Murphy Gallery in Chilmark, now home to the Kara Taylor Gallery. The painter is hoping to find a new gallery.

Enos Ray: New Paintings reception, Friday, July 5, 4–6 pm, Sovereign Bank, Chilmark. Show runs July 5–July 12 during bank hours 8:30 am–3:30 pm, Monday–Thursday; Friday, 8:30 am–4 pm. For more information, call 508-693-7178.