Ray Sell: A Conversation about Cowboys


At first glance, the work of Ray Sell is a paradox in 2D. Distorted reality comes with the territory of collage- so that initial paradox can be dismissed. A true juxtaposition occurs when the viewer looks further than the obvious. Far past the the initial contradiction of geometrical landscapes and floating figures and symbols in his surreal composition is the true abstraction. This is what makes Ray Sell’s work so intriguing. Perceived family values are conjured with classical images of safety. Very casually though is a foreground of nude women and wild animals. Amongst a montage of blue collar porno is collaged innocence and honesty. The canvas is stamped in the same manner as graphics on a modern cable news channel. The graphics however are clearly of a time past. I wanted to learn more about Ray’s use of symbolism. I was also curious to know who these people really were and what exact media he used to bring this narrative to life. Here is Ray Sell in his own words.

“Zebra Crossing”

“In order to adequately answer your question, I need to give you some info about my personal background. I was born and raised in the suburbs of New York. My hometown was undeveloped and practically rural during my childhood, but has since been developed. I was raised with rural All-American values. My relationship with my father has been the inspiration for much of my work. My father has four sons, all of which he raised to be just like him. My three brothers are all beer drinking, truck driving, blue collar man’s men. I have never quite fit this mold, except for maybe the beer drinking. Sometimes I think my father was raising drinking buddies rather than sons. This father-son relationship inspired much of my work in my solo show at Leo Kesting titled “Raise ‘Em To Be Cowboys”. The cowboys in my paintings symbolized the stereotypical masculine male that my father raised his sons to be.

“Raise ‘Em To Be Cowboys”

The black and white images taken from media of the 1940’s and 1950’s portray the perfect American family. I use this idealism in juxtaposition to my cynical view to show a stark contrast between media and reality. By taking figures out of their original context and placing them in the world I have created, a completely different meaning is produced.

“Big Package”

The nude women represent something different in each painting, but generally I incorporate them to show how American boys see women. Sometimes they are used to portray a boy’s rite of passage; whether that is buying his first playboy or losing his virginity. Despite the serious undertones of my artwork, I try to make it fun, light hearted and open to interpretation.

“Dust Storm”

To create my work, I use collage, acrylic paint and ball point pen. I use images from the 1940’s through present day, layering them with translucent paint in order to create depth. I then add splashes of opaque paint to bring objects and people to the foreground. The smaller collage pieces are used as reference for my larger paintings, which are primarily acrylic paint.”

“I’m Goin’ To Disneyland”

Learn more about Ray Sell!


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