Carl Ray

Carl RaySelf-taught artist Carl Ray was born on January 10, 1943 on the Sandy Lake First Nation reserve in northern Ontario, Canada and was known in his Cree community as Tall Straight Poplar (he was 6'4" tall) where he hunted and trapped after leaving residential school at fifteen, following the death of his father. At this traditional way of living he was a failure - in Carl’s own words years later: “a year’s catch consisted of four beaver, one lynx, and an assortment of mice and rabbits”. Despite showing artistic promise at an early age, Carl was reluctant to break the taboo of painting the sacred beliefs and stories of his people. He did not touch a brush or paint for many years after having been admonished by his elders for doing so.

He eventually left the reserve to work in the Red Lake gold mines where his drinking and guitar playing abilities earned him the nickname Ira Hayes. However, his excesses caught up with him and he contracted tuberculosis, eventually recovered in Fort William and returned home in 1966. It was not until then that Norval Morrisseau’s success in breaking the painting taboos allowed Carl to confidently pursue his craft, which in many cases, included “legend painting” and painting wildlife and northern scenic landscapes.

He apprenticed under Norval Morrisseau (who had already achieved national and international acclaim) and worked on the mural for the Indians of Canada Pavilion of Expo 67 in Montreal. Norval had designed and sketched the mural but it was Carl who did most of the work and was left to finish it. Unfortunately this masterpiece is lost as it was left to fall into disrepair and was eventually demolished years later.

As well as translating the legends, Carl also created a large and impressive group of illustrations for James Stevens’ book “Legends of the Sandy Lake Cree” in 1971. Stevens reported that Carl “perceived this reversion to a more austere style as a loss of face”. Many of the illustrations would somewhat haunt him since it was now the kind of work that was expected of him in certain markets.

With the help of Ontario Department of Education Superintendent Robert Lavack, Carl embarked on a tour teaching art at schools in northern communities including Kirkland Lake, Timmins, Blind River, Wawa, Bruce Mines, Manitoulin Island, Sudbury, Levack, North Bay, Bracebridge, Oshawa and Whitby. Carl also taught at the Manitou Arts Foundation on Schreiber Island in 1971. The following year the department of Indian Affairs sponsored the tour through northern communities and reserves.

Carl continued to develop and paint through the mid 70’s completing notable large scale mural opportunities at schools and the Sioux Lookout Fellowship and Communications Centre as well as smaller works becoming more and more popular with white buyers. In the early 1970s Ray had the first solo exhibition of his black and sepia, Woodlands style paintings on paper and canvas at Aggregation Gallery in Toronto. Aggregation Gallery continued to represent his work and estate through to the early 80's. By 1975, the Indian Group of Seven had formed and Ray was enjoying acclaim and purchases by notable collectors such as Dr. Peter Lewin and Dr. Bernard Cinader, as well as public institutions such as the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. He also illustrated the cover of “The White City” published by Tom Marshall in 1976. Much of Carl’s art was influenced by his often troubled personal life and inner demons and excesses.

Carl was known by his peers as a man of general good humour. He was also known as somewhat of a jokester as described by fellow painter Alex Janvier: “Carl Ray was the guy who could laugh, make fun of you, throw a joke on you and he’d laugh his head off".

Carl Ray was murdered, stabbed to death, as a result of a drunken brawl over money in Sioux Lookout in 1978. He was only 35 years old. In a note to Carl Ray by George Kenny after his death he wrote “I wonder if those paintings you painted ever satisfied your demons that drove you to paint…Didn’t you realize that fame only comes at the meeting of one of those demons – DEATH? ….Now we’ll never know the extent of your greatness…”Self-taught artist Carl Ray was born on January 10, 1943 on the Sandy Lake First Nation reserve in northern Ontario, Canada and was known in his Cree community as Tall Straight Poplar (he was 6'4" tall) where he hunted and trapped after leaving residential school at fifteen, following the death of his father. At this traditional way of living he was a failure - in Carl’s own words years later: “a year’s catch consisted of four beaver, one lynx, and an assortment of mice and rabbits”. Despite showing artistic promise at an early age, Carl was reluctant to break the taboo of painting the sacred beliefs and stories of his people. He did not touch a brush or paint for many years after having been admonished by his elders for doing so.

He eventually left the reserve to work in the Red Lake gold mines where his drinking and guitar playing abilities earned him the nickname Ira Hayes. However, his excesses caught up with him and he contracted tuberculosis, eventually recovered in Fort William and returned home in 1966. It was not until then that Norval Morrisseau’s success in breaking the painting taboos allowed Carl to confidently pursue his craft, which in many cases, included “legend painting” and painting wildlife and northern scenic landscapes.

He apprenticed under Norval Morrisseau (who had already achieved national and international acclaim) and worked on the mural for the Indians of Canada Pavilion of Expo 67 in Montreal. Norval had designed and sketched the mural but it was Carl who did most of the work and was left to finish it. Unfortunately this masterpiece is lost as it was left to fall into disrepair and was eventually demolished years later.

As well as translating the legends, Carl also created a large and impressive group of illustrations for James Stevens’ book “Legends of the Sandy Lake Cree” in 1971. Stevens reported that Carl “perceived this reversion to a more austere style as a loss of face”. Many of the illustrations would somewhat haunt him since it was now the kind of work that was expected of him in certain markets.

With the help of Ontario Department of Education Superintendent Robert Lavack, Carl embarked on a tour teaching art at schools in northern communities including Kirkland Lake, Timmins, Blind River, Wawa, Bruce Mines, Manitoulin Island, Sudbury, Levack, North Bay, Bracebridge, Oshawa and Whitby. Carl also taught at the Manitou Arts Foundation on Schreiber Island in 1971. The following year the department of Indian Affairs sponsored the tour through northern communities and reserves.

Carl continued to develop and paint through the mid 70’s completing notable large scale mural opportunities at schools and the Sioux Lookout Fellowship and Communications Centre as well as smaller works becoming more and more popular with white buyers. In the early 1970s Ray had the first solo exhibition of his black and sepia, Woodlands style paintings on paper and canvas at Aggregation Gallery in Toronto. Aggregation Gallery continued to represent his work and estate through to the early 80's. By 1975, the Indian Group of Seven had formed and Ray was enjoying acclaim and purchases by notable collectors such as Dr. Peter Lewin and Dr. Bernard Cinader, as well as public institutions such as the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. He also illustrated the cover of “The White City” published by Tom Marshall in 1976. Much of Carl’s art was influenced by his often troubled personal life and inner demons and excesses.

Carl was known by his peers as a man of general good humour. He was also known as somewhat of a jokester as described by fellow painter Alex Janvier: “Carl Ray was the guy who could laugh, make fun of you, throw a joke on you and he’d laugh his head off".

Carl Ray was murdered, stabbed to death, as a result of a drunken brawl over money in Sioux Lookout in 1978. He was only 35 years old. In a note to Carl Ray by George Kenny after his death he wrote “I wonder if those paintings you painted ever satisfied your demons that drove you to paint…Didn’t you realize that fame only comes at the meeting of one of those demons – DEATH? ….Now we’ll never know the extent of your greatness…”

Carl Ray paintings

Carl Ray 

Weesa-Kay-Jac and the Geese
by Carl Ray

 Carl Ray

Mosquitoes hit with Thunderbird Lightning
by Carl Ray

 

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