UH Hilo alumna Margo Ray, local artist with a voice “counter to the fiction of paradise”

Margo Ray is busy in the Hawai‘i Island art community, exhibiting her art throughout the state, curating and jurying art exhibitions, and teaching art workshops.

By Kara Nelson.

Margo Ray in her studio. Large mural on wall behind her with sky, cowboy and flora.
Margo Ray in her studio. Photo by Sally Lundburg.

Hawai‘i Island artist Margo Ray, a printmaker, book artist and painter, born and raised in Hawai‘i, has a successful, growing career shaped in part by her studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

“UH Hilo is a small school, it is quite diverse culturally, with students from throughout the Pacific as well as from the U.S. mainland,” says Ray when asked about UH Hilo’s effect on her career. “There is also diversity in the age range of the student body, some entering right out of high school and others returning to school later in their life. All of these influences create a unique educational environment that influenced my art practice and subsequently my art career.”

Umbrellas floating in the sky.
This panel by UH Hilo alumna Margo Ray, entitled, Somewhere Near and Far: Ascension #2 — along with two other works of hers (see end of post) — will be shown at the Honolulu Museum of Art Contempo 2015 in June. Mixed media on panel. 2014. Click to enlarge. All photos used with permission.

She offers this advice to aspiring UH Hilo art students: “Take advantage of the unique educational opportunities at UH Hilo, such as Hawaiian studies, astronomy, marine science, volcanology. These concepts and ideas will enrich your art practice and conceptual ideas.”

Ray earned her bachelor of arts in studio arts from UH Hilo, where she graduated with honors in 2002. UH Hilo, with its average class size of 22 students and a 1:15 student-to-faculty ratio, proved beneficial since Ray received strong support from her teachers.

“My art professors were very encouraging of my interest in art and becoming a professional artist,” says Ray. “They all really urged me to apply to graduate schools and were very involved in helping me put together my portfolio and application as well as writing letters of recommendation.”

Ray continued her studies and earned her master of fine arts in print media from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, in 2006.

The artist at work

Sculpture of water tank.
Many of Ray’s works include images of water tanks. In this installation — entitled, Between Worlds, Waters Flow — the exterior view shows a construction of screen prints on panels. 8.5′ in diameter by 9′ high. 2010. Courtesy photo.
Painting of cowboy, plants, the moon.
This is the interior of Between Worlds, Waters Flow (exterior shown above). Gouache, layered paper, photo collage on canvas. 8.5′ in diameter by 9′ high. 2010. Courtesy photo.
Margo Ray and Scott Yoell in their frame shop with sample frames on the wall behind them.
Margo Ray and husband Scott Yoell at their business, Ironwood Custom Framing and Design, in Waimea. Courtesy photo.

Since earning her master’s degree, Ray has done residencies in Quebec, California, and Newfoundland. She met her husband, Scott Yoell, a Canadian from Windsor, Ontario, when they both lived in Montréal. They now call home a farm in Honoka‘a on the Hamakua Coast of Hawai‘i Island, and together the couple owns Ironwood Custom Framing and Design in Waimea.

“Upon returning to Hawai‘i almost nine years ago after graduate school, I have been active in the Hawai‘i art community, exhibiting my prints and paintings throughout the state as well as large scale installation projects,” she explains. “I have also been involved in curating and jurying art exhibitions and well as teaching art workshops.”

Ray has a unique art style, the subject of a 2009 HI Art Magazine article written by fellow artist and colleague, Sally Lunburg.

(Margo) is deeply influenced by author Haruki Murakami for his cross-cultural take on fantastical and surreal situations that he inserts into everyday circumstances, and Frieda Kahlo’s use of intense, vibrant colors and loaded symbolism in her paintings.

William Kentridge has also been influential through his examination of self in his political and social surroundings as well as his fluid movement between mediums; print, sculpture, drawing and animation. Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer’s use of collage, compound imagery and text have continued to inform Margo’s practice. All of these artists work embrace a fantastic and metaphysical take on the political and social condition of contemporary life.

On Ray’s website, she explains her artistic style.

Postcards, Snapshots and Collected Lamentations Detail
Postcards, Snapshots and Collected Lamentations. Detail. Mixed media collages on paper. Individually 8”x 8”. 2009. Click to enlarge. Courtesy photo.

“My art practice is collage based,” she writes. “I approach my work through the process of collection: postcards, tourist memorabilia and photography. In my installation works I have evolved an iconic language inspired by Hawaiian ranching culture utilizing collage, print media, sculpture and animation.”

Ray is inspired by the Hawaiian landscape she grew up with and the “wild west” concept of American myth.

Painting of silos, airplanes, two cats on chairs, field.
HooDoo. Intaglio print, 26″ x 20″. 2003. Courtesy photo. Click to enlarge.

“I create surreal compositions, using the allegory of landscape, that integrate drawn and photographic images of animals, plants, explosions, comets and airplanes,” Ray writes. “In them I explore notions of displacement, vulnerability and authenticity as well as my relationship to natural and super natural worlds; drawing attention to the complicated triangulation of relationships between man, land, and animal and the notions of freedom, domestication and prey.”

Ray has shown in galleries ranging from The Parisian Laundry in Montreal, Quebec, the Artists Book Collection at Bibliotheque Nationale du Quebec, and Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia. In Honolulu, she has shown at the former Contemporary Museum (now merged with the Honolulu Academy of Arts) and the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

Since 2010, Ray has been a member of AGGROculture, a Hawai‘i-based art collective, along with fellow members Keith Tallett (also a UH Hilo alum), Sally Lundburg, and Ray’s husband Scott Yoell.

According to Ray, AGGROculture features contemporary artwork with “cutting edge” and “challenging concepts.”

Painting of ladder and hummingbird, sunflowers. oranges, greens and yellow.
Somewhere Near and Far: Ascension #3. Mixed media on panel. 2014. This piece will be shown at the Honolulu Museum of Art Contempo 2015 this June. Courtesy photo. Click to enlarge.

“Being just East of West, Hawaii is a microcosm for issues of local and global concern. We explore this rich culture and diversity in our work, and strive to be a voice counter to the fiction of paradise and pre-contact idealism.”

Upcoming exhibitions

Ray will show three new pieces at the Honolulu Museum of Art Contempo 2015 this coming June. The titles are: Somewhere Near and Far: Crossings #2Somewhere Near and Far: Ascension #2; and Somewhere Near and Far: Ascension #3. All three are mixed media on panel.

Ray is currently in the process of building a printmaking studio on her farm in Honoka‘a. This year she is working on a project with her AGGROculture group called, “The Rat and The Octopus” — Ray, Tallett, Lundburg, and Yoell will have a solo exhibition for the project at the Schaefer International Gallery at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in 2016.

Hanging lanterns, sunflowers, a lone person in a field, netting.
Somewhere Near and Far: Crossings #2. Mixed media on panel. 2014. This piece will show this June at the Honolulu Museum of Art Contempo 2015. Courtesy photo.


About the author of this story: Kara Nelson is a senior at UH Hilo double majoring in English and Communication. She is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor and a writer for UH Hilo Stories.

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