Darren Vigil Gray
Painter Darren Vigil Gray’s career is marked by explorations in subject matter and themes. His works are often figurative, and while Native themes are present in much of his work, Native subjects have never been his primary artistic concern. “Long, long ago, I found that if you labeled yourself or categorized yourself as a Native artist, it pigeonholed you, put you in a box. I never wanted that. I never even called myself an Indian artist. That allowed me to be more free. That’s the cornerstone of my whole career. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and not be dictated to or paint for a certain market.”
Born on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in northwest New Mexico, Gray left home as a teenager to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts. He went on to pursue a degree at the University of New Mexico. Since then, he has exhibited in numerous galleries. He’s had solo shows at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and is represented in several museum collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Gray remains forthcoming about the craft of painting, often speaking to children in educational settings. “I’ve always had children’s artwork around me. I’ve raised kids all my life and showed my daughters how to paint and learned quite a bit from them. At a certain age they paint so loosely, and that inspires me. I work in the schools quite often, whenever I’m asked to give presentations. I enjoy talking to kids. They need direction just like we all do at certain points in our lives.”
Gray’s abstract painting style and bright color palette transform his landscapes and figurative work into mystic visions that sometimes incorporate Native symbols. But his primary style recalls Post-Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism. “That’s pretty much where my heart is. My whole style is rooted in European painting. I’ve just felt a real spurt of growth as an artist, as a painter. I think I’m right in the middle of it right now.
As an artist, I have found a constant need to explore innovation in my artwork. It is my most important challenge and my greatest joy. My paintings inhabit the liminal space between worlds where a barrage of imagery and forms come into being. Whereas many artists have an idea in mind, or even a design in mind, when they begin a picture, I never do. I live through the act of painting, discovering what’s there instead of analyzing it. The marks are often chaotic and loose. It’s through them that spaces come that can breathe – and that’s where the imagery comes from.