If we all could “see” music as a shimmering palate of colors, chances are a cool sax riff by Charlie “Bird” Parker or a smooth solo from George Benson’s guitar would probably resemble one of Eric McRay’s paintings.
    Talking in the vernacular of a jazz musician, McRay describes his art as “improvisational.”
    “Improvisation is a big part of my art,” said McRay, “just like a jazz musician. My art is a random type of expression. For me, painting is pulling all these notes together into one piece. In my next life, I’m coming back as a musician.”
    Thankfully, for art lovers, McRay is living in the moment rather than some future existence as a New Orleans trumpeter, allowing us to be treated to his paintings, some of which will be on display at the Fayetteville Museum of Art from Jan. 17-March 8 as part of a two-person exhibit entitled Visual Allegories. The other featured artist is Chandra Cox.
    Both McRay and and Cox are African-Americans, appropros for the Visual Allegories exhibit, which will compare the artists’ work with utilitarian African objects that are part of the FMoA’s Lewis Pate collection.
McRay’s paintings — many of which are centered around jazz, as well as North Carolina landscapes — are full of “allegories” and metaphors ... at least sometimes.
    {mosimage}“I put a lot of myself into my art,” said McRay, who owns McRay Studios in Raleigh. “I use my knowledge of art history and African-American history to try and connect my art to the human experience.
    “But sometimes,” said McRay, in perhaps a mild swipe at learned art scholars who overanalyze and psychoanalyze every brush stroke, “sometimes ... a tree is just a tree.”
    Speaking of trees, despite his deep love of jazz, which is the subject of many of his paintings, including some works that will be on display at the FMoA, part of McRay’s continuing maturity as an artist includes more landscapes.
“Art is all about change,” said McCray. “I painted a lot of jazz when I was into popular music and hung out with jazz musicians and writers. Now, I’m painting more landscapes because I’m traveling more and meeting all these ‘well-to-do’  folks who live on the coast and have beautiful houses.”
    But fear not jazzbos, you’ll get more than your fix of McCray’s illustrated representation of your favorite music at the Visual Allegories exhibit, especially in such works as the collage piece “Late Night Jazz.”
    You’ll also be treated to a variety of artistic mediums by Cox, a practicing artist, image-maker who works in a range of mediums from oil and acrylic to digital media.
    Her work has been presented in numerous museums and galleries around the country such as the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Her artworks in public collections include North Carolina State University, North Carolina Central University and The University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She illustrated the children’s book Christmas Makes Me Think, published by Lee and Low of New York.
Among her awards are the Artist-in-Residence Fellowship at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, Calif. Cox also received the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1985 and 1995, and the Undergraduate Alumni Distinguished Professor Award in 1988.
    You can get an early look at the work by these two artists at the museum’s premier party on Jan. 16 from 6-8 p.m. There will also be some audio, thanks to Chapel Hill band Physics of Meaning. Daniel Hart, leader and chief songwriter for Physics of Meaning, has contributed to such groups as St. Vincent and the critically acclaimed Polyphonic Spree.

Contact Tim Wilkins at tim@upandcomingweekly.com 

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