REX RAY (Sept. 11, 1956—Feb. 9, 2015) was an American artist best known for his innovative pop aesthetic in fine and commercial art—on canvases, wood panels, album covers, paper, book jackets, murals, and rock and roll posters.
Born in Landstuhl, Germany in 1956, Michael Patterson was raised in Colorado Springs. Before moving to San Francisco in 1981, Patterson, inspired by Andy Warhol, adopted the moniker Rex Ray. He attended the San Francisco Art Institute where he studied with Sam Tchakalian, Kathy Acker, and Angela Davis, and received his BFA in 1989. He became a major force in the Bay Area’s art, literary, and activist communities.
Ray was one of the first artists to use Mac-based technologies in the creative process to generate art and graphics. His early designs include: the first graphics for the San Francisco chapter of Act Up; many guerilla marketing flyers and posters for queer nightclubs; and numerous book covers for City Lights Books and HIGH RISK/Serpent’s Tail. His impressive client roster in the music, fashion, entertainment, and design industries, includes David Bowie, The Residents, Bill Graham Presents, DreamWorks, Levis, Neiman Marcus, Sony Music, Warner Brothers, and Apple. Rex Ray designs have been licensed and produced as distinctive imagery on scarves, carpets, ceramics, wristwatches, surfboards, and even on a Mini Cooper.
During his lifetime Rex Ray generated a prolific body of painting and works on paper. His technique involved a complicated process that combined Xerography, handmade woodblock prints, newsprint, and magazine images into vibrant color schemes with parabolic forms and abstract patterns. His works reference mid-century modernism, Dada, decorative arts, Fluxus, and Pop Art deployments associated with Andy Warhol and continue to speak to ideas of beauty during eras known for post-modernist and conceptual ideologies.
Ray’s work has been included in exhibitions at the Akron Art Museum; Berkeley Art Museum; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; MCA DENVER; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; San Jose Museum of Art; and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Several books including Cut & Paste, Rex Ray: Art + Design, and Information feature images with writings about his career and artistic practice.
“Rex’s art correlates closely to that of other artists who seemingly cross over from design or pop art graphics, such as Takashi Murakami or Ryan McGinness. . . From the colliding worlds of art, design, media culture, fashion, and street culture, he has created work utterly of the moment, yet utterly eternal.”
— Douglas Coupland