NY Times Obituary

Studio, December 16th, 2004

December 10, 2004

Cleve Gray, 86, a Painter of Large Abstract Works, Dies


Cleve Gray, a painter admired for his large-scale, vividly colorful and lyrically gestural abstract compositions, died on Wednesday in Hartford. He was 86.

The cause was a massive subdural hematoma suffered after he fell on ice and hit his head on Tuesday outside his home in Warren, Conn., said his wife, the writer Francine du Plessix Gray.

Mr. Gray achieved his greatest critical recognition in the late 1960's and 70's after working for many years in a comparatively conservative late-Cubist style. Inspired in the 60's by artists like Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler, Mr. Gray began to produce large paintings using a variety of application methods - pouring, staining, sponging and other nontraditional techniques - to create compositions combining expanses of pure color and spontaneous calligraphic gestures.

In 1972 and 73 he produced "Threnody," a suite of 14 paintings, each measuring 20 feet by 20 feet, dedicated to the dead on both sides in the Vietnam War. The series was commissioned by the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, part of the State University of New York, and is considered one of the largest groups of abstract paintings created for a specific public space.

Cleve Ginsberg was born in New York on Sept. 22, 1918. (The family changed its named to Gray in 1936.) He attended the Ethical Culture School in New York, and completed his college preparatory studies at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., where he won the Samuel F. B. Morse Prize for most promising art student. In 1940 he graduated summa cum laude from Princeton with a degree in art and archaeology. He wrote his thesis on Chinese landscape painting. Chinese painting would later become an important influence on his own painting.

Mr. Gray joined the Army in 1942 and served in Britain, France and Germany, where he sketched wartime destruction. After the liberation of Paris he began informal studies with the French artists Andréé Lhote and Jacques Villon, and he continued those studies after the war.

He began to exhibit his work at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris, and he had his first solo exhibition at the Jacques Seligmann Gallery in New York in 1947, a year after returning to the United States. Mr. Gray's work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and many other museums. His most recent exhibition of new paintings was in 2002 at Berry-Hill Galleries in Manhattan. When he died he was working on pictures for a show scheduled for this winter at Berry-Hill.

In 1949 Mr. Gray bought the house in Warren that remained his home for the rest of his life. In 1957 he married Francine du Plessix, who became well known as a novelist and essayist.

Mr. Gray also wrote frequently about art. He was a contributing editor for Art in America magazine and he edited three volumes of other artists' writings: "David Smith by David Smith" (1968); "John Marin by John Marin" (1970) and "Hans Richter by Hans Richter" (1971) (all published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston).

Mr. Gray is survived by his wife; their sons, Thaddeus, of Manhattan, and Luke, of Brooklyn; and four grandchildren.

Copyright © Cleve Gray 2000. All rights.