Ray Colleran uses book pages and found imagery in nearly all of his work, but the Sag Harbor artist has a style of painting that is uniquely his own.
Though Colleran is a prolific painter and he experiments with styles and mediums like a mad scientist in his studio, he recently found the key to putting his varied styles together and the result is a perfect storm on canvas and paper.
“I’ve kind of found what I was looking for,” Colleran said, describing his current body of work. “I was able to merge my abstract landscape painting with my book page work,” he added. “I no longer have separate work.”
The 43-year-old painter moved to the East End in 2005. He rented a house in Springs that winter, but never expected to stay. “I moved here by accident,” Colleran said, explaining that he was “down and out” in New York City and he had decided to take a break. “I ended up staying, I really like it out here,” he said.
Colleran has had 17 residences and lived all over the United States since he graduated Seattle University with a degree in liberal arts and philosophy in 1988. The artist taught himself to paint at age 20 and he began painting bridges and plein air landscapes, but his destiny and the direction of his work changed in 1995 when a friend and chess partner in Seattle gave him a vintage book from the early 1960s.
“This book kind of changed my life,” Colleran said. The book, which he chooses not to name, was self-published by U.S. defense conglomerate General Dynamics and it features hundreds of images, which now feature heavily in Colleran’s work.
“When I started as an artist, I didn’t know what my aim was … I did it because I had to,” Colleran said, but four years after receiving the book and admiring the images of war machines, propaganda and the people that produce it, he took a leap, tore out a few pages and found his direction. “I wanted to make something, but I didn’t want to start from scratch,” he said.
Since he tore into that first copy of the book, Colleran has bought four more copies of the rare tome, and he always keeps one intact. “These are all book pages, not photocopies, no Inkjets, no pictures off the web. It’s all original,” the artist said, illustrating the precious nature of each image. “It’s the feel of it. There’s an authenticity to using something real.”
Colleran typically paints over the book pages or collages more than one onto canvas or wood panel. While the images are visible, the artist scrawls over them with words, colors, sketches and shapes, leaving the final product with entirely new context. The overwhelming themes touch on Colleran’s boyhood fascination with planes, boats and submarines, and his disgust and disappointment with the modern military industrial complex that uses them.
“There’s a dichotomy between how cool Navy planes are and how they drop bombs, how they kill people,” Colleran said, noting that he dreamed of becoming a Navy pilot before becoming an artist. “Technology turns the splitting of the atom into an explosive.”
Colleran has been a full-time painter since 1999. He’s shown locally, and more extensively in New York before moving east, but Colleran had been somewhat reclusive with his painting over the past five years. The artist said things have changed since he clarified the direction of his work and he’s ready to rejoin his friends and admirers in the art world.
In August, he showed 10 pieces in the Mixed Media group show at Delaney Cooke Gallery in Sag Harbor, and for the past two years Colleran has taught special seminar classes at the in East Hampton.
After years of traveling, Colleran said he’s also ready to call Sag Harbor home. “It was just this year that I decided to stay,” he said. “I feel good here.”