Through experience and contemplation, painter hones his craft
In creating oil paintings at his Tacoma studio, artist David Gray, ’92, takes inspiration from what is beautiful, good, excellent and wholesome. Gray has worked as a full-time artist since December 2002. In this relatively short time, he has distinguished himself by winning prestigious awards such as the 2009 Chairman’s Choice Award at the International Art Renewal Center Salon, a competition for artists working in the classical tradition. Gray completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at PLU. But while he always was interested in art, Gray did not immediately know after graduation what he wanted to do. Initially, he moved to California’s Bay Area to work with youth at Bayshore Christian Ministries. But eight months later, he returned to Tacoma, where he started working as a waiter.
It wasn’t until 1996, the same year that Gray married his wife, Jessica, that he began to paint. “That’s when I got serious about my life,” said Gray. “I had to strike a path.”
In 2000, Gray attended the Pacific Rim Art Expo in Seattle, where his work caught the eye of the owner of Howard/Mandville Gallery, the first to feature his work.
Gray quit waiting tables two years later and began devoting his full attention to art.
“You got to take the plunge at some point,” said Gray. “Any self-employed person knows this. You got to cut off what’s safe.”
Gray has narrowed the focus of his work to still life and figurative art. Through a classical approach, utilized by artists for centuries, Gray paints to convey beauty and order.
“Each painting is a step and a journey,” said Gray.
To be an artist, Gray said, a person needs to possess natural ability and to hone that ability through education, experience, as well as trial and error. “It’s got to be a refined, honed communication,” said Gray. “It’s a craft.”
Gray gathers inspiration from numerous sources, including cloud patterns, music, or witnessing acts of kindness. He is inspired by things in life that are beautiful and good.
“Everything I do see that’s excellent, orderly and pure, it’s from God,” said Gray. He believes his faith plays a part in why he does what he does.
“The fact that I’m a believer gives me a spiritual awareness,” said Gray, making
him “more vulnerable to beautiful things. Excellent things. So, those things turn me on.”
Gray has several figure paintings of his family, including his wife, Jessica, his six-year-old son, Forest, and daughter, Lauren, 9.
Teaching is also something Gray does as the opportunity arises. He has received really positive feedback from students and it has allowed him to sharpen his understanding of his craft. As part of that, Gray recently started a figure drawing class which he attends with other artists every Thursday night. Together, Gray and Frances Buckmaster, an artist from Puyallup, hire a live model to come in for them and about 20 other artists to paint for mostly fun, but also to practice their skills.
Gray’s dedication to living the life of a professional artist with a commitment to lifelong learning to improve one’s craft inspires the other artists, said Buckmaster.
“He’s not only talented and experienced,” said Buckmaster, “but he’s my idea of a person living the life of a serious, professional artist.”