Vik Beach (2015), oil on panel, 6 x 7 in.
Looking at Eleanor Ray’s small landscapes and interiors—none exceeds 9 by 8 inches—one is struck by how much space they contain. Prince Hamlet had the ability to imagine infinity bounded in a nutshell and so, it seems, does Ray. Her modest-scale panels and dry, quietly expressive, almost reticent, brushwork draw the viewer in, even as the view opens outward, as through a portal or lens. Her pictures regularly include a variety of architectural frames: arches within arches, doorways opening on to other doorways, a window looking out on a courtyard of lamp-lit windows.
The result of such framing and of the flat planes created by glass and plaster is that the paintings delicately balance narrative detail—a ladder in Cézanne’s studio in Aix, a fresco in Avignon, a Morandi-like collection of objects cluttering a friend’s studio—with the almost musical rhythms of abstract space. What is most striking about her work is how fully she can infuse these unpeopled spaces with feeling.
Florida Doorway (2015), oil on panel, 6 x 5 ¼ in.
The warren-like, cool interior of Florida Doorway (2015) is set aglow by the leaf-green light pouring in from high windows. Ray’s eye for detail—in this case how the light reflects on the umber floor, burnished by a single, deft stroke— helps bring her uncluttered interiors to life with an alluring energy.
She can move from the seeming simplicity of a seascape—in fact it’s precisely, evocatively brushed—to the playful panes of Squash Court II (2015), in which the diagonals of the perspective and a door left ajar play off the upright green-edged walls of glass. Like 101 Spring Street (2014), it’s a funhouse space, in which one doubts what is substantial and what is reflected. The interior is both contained by, and opens out through layers of glass.
Squash Court II (2015), oil on panel, 6 ¾ x 9 in.
Ray’s subjects are often other paintings. Several depict the façade and interiors of Donald Judd’s building at 101 Spring Street. Then there are the treasures encountered on her travels: a fresco at the Villa di Livia, mosaics in Ravenna, a Roman courtyard. Art about other art can easily cloy or fall flat, but one feels all of Ray’s pictures actively looking, by which I mean the paintings themselves seem to be actively looking—though windows and doors, around corners, at other art.
Up on Park Avenue South at the moment, there is an exhibition of Hammershøi at Scandinavia House, and it’s interesting to think of these two painters together. In Sculpture Studio (2015), one gets the sense, as in Hammershøi, of craning to enter the space—and not just the space, but the emotion of the space. For both (and for Morandi, who also lurks here), it’s all about the light. With even sparser means, Ray approaches Hammershøi’s range and intensity of feeling. The show, at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects (208 Forsyth Street, 917-861-7312) closes on Christmas Eve. Be sure to see it before it goes.
Sculpture Studio (2015), oil on panel, 7 x 8 in.
Eleanor Ray: paintings is on view at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York through December 24. Images courtesy of Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects.