Ray Stratton was one of the original 13 artists asked to be a part of "Mapping the Cosmos" at the William King Museum of Art, Abingdon, Virginia.
When it came time to reach into the hat and draw a topic for his inspiration, he wasn't sure what he wanted the Cosmos to give him. He received Halley's Comet."I didn't really have any preconceived notions about what I might draw out of the hat, but I did note that most of the others immediately brought to mind images from art or mythology, and that with Halley's Comet I didn't have that visual history to draw from," he says.
So what does an artist do when he has an assignment but doesn't have an image in mind? He turns to the Internet.
"Since I didn't have much in the way of visual reference, I did what most people do and googled it. I made notes on what I found and tried to consider what features stood out the most. Then I tried several different approaches and media."
Stratton's primary mode of expression is printmaking, but he also expands into papermaking, sculpture and painting. He chose to use papermaking and sculpture for Halley's comet.
"I actually have three finished pieces if there is room for them in the gallery. Two of them are somewhat representational of what a comet looks like. One is made from specially processed handmade paper and built in stages like a rocket going into orbit. Like the rocket, a comet loses matter and gets smaller every time we see it. The second piece is handmade paper over reed and has more of a dynamic look. The third piece consists of 75 paper metronomes and is a more abstract take on the comet and its 75-year cycle around the sun and the regularity of that cycle.
"The vast majority of my work deals with ideas of travel or passage. I began in grad school with the idea of the labyrinth and have expanded from there to a general theme of a person's journey or passage through life. Some of the works look forward toward possible paths to proceed on, while others look back at the paths we've taken. This all loosely follows the idea that it is the journey itself, rather than the perceived goal, that is of the greatest importance. I try to keep my work fresh by trying various approaches to my subject matter as well as changing the focus of what part of the journey or what type of passage that I am conceiving."
When it came time to choose another artist to join the exhibition, Stratton chose his wife Misty. "When thinking about some of the strongest artists in Wise County, she was certainly one of those at the top of that list. But not wanting to appear to be giving in to nepotism, I did ask another artist first, but they already had too many other commitments," he says.
Stratton received a BFA from Arizona State University and went on to get a MFA from the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. He is an assistant professor at The University of Virginia's College at Wise, where he teaches various art courses.
List of artists in the show