Ja’Rie Gray is a graduate student at CSU Long Beach, getting her MFA after earning her BFA at Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach. She is graduating this spring and will be teaching Foundation Life Drawing. She didn’t consider her work art until she started college but has making pieces since she was around 5 years old. Her work is inspired from The Black Art Movement in the 1960’s, African American artists like Jacob Lawrence and Barkley L. Hendricks, and her own childhood.
Her work is mostly charcoal on paper, which she feels most comfortable with, and oil on canvas, which she also adores. She calls oil her “second love” but favors charcoal since she enjoys it the most and feels most comfortable with. A prominent feature in her pieces is color, which although most African American woman are wary of, that Gray takes pride in. Her colors are very vibrants and she uses a variety of geometric shapes. The colors serve to bring the attention to the skin colors of the women. The shapes are used to place an emphasis on the lines and curves of the women’s bodies. Realism leaves a hint in her art but it also reflects to how she views the women in her own imagination.
Gray’s exhibits tries to show the idea of self- acceptance and to bring to light the prevalent discriminatory attitude towards skin color. She tries to emphasize and show that women of different complexions, even dark, are beautiful and don’t need to be changed. She reflects on how people use bleach in order to fit into a beauty standard. Her pieces show that light skin is not always, and not only, the only pretty tone. The women showed in such a variety of bright colors adds a lightness and convey the beauty that she sees and wants others to also see.
I really enjoyed her artwork. I feel that colorism is such a hidden concept in pop culture, no matter how real it is. I remember being favored, versus my cousins, because my own skin tone was lighter than theirs and how they grew to resent me and my favoritism. Growing up I’d hear conversations about how someone’s baby was so cute “… but dark skinned.” I’ve learned to stray from that ideology but it always stays in the corner of my mind as I meet new people. I appreciated how she tried to break the ideal and show that people can still be pretty without having to fit into the cookie cutter mold. I really enjoyed her pieces and am so glad that she’s trying to get this message across.