Arts & Culture

Painter puts heart and soul into his work

Look at the watercolors and acrylics painted by Jim Bray and you'll soon spot some common themes.

That's because Bray has a passion for three primary subjects when he paints: trains and planes; landscapes; and abstract, or experimental, works. What all of the paintings have in common, however, is technical drawing excellence, an evocative use of color and a creative vision.

Thirty of Bray's works representing his passions are on display through March 19 in the Riney Fine Arts Gallery at Friends University. A reception will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 tonight.

Bray formerly taught art at Phillips University in Enid, Okla., and at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo., where he now lives part time. But in recent years, many months of each year have been spent teaching art at Mullsjo Folkhogskola college in central Sweden.

Despite his years in the role of professor, he still claims to be learning his craft.

"It's such an elusive medium that I'm still on a learning curve, especially in wet technique," he said during an interview while setting up to teach a watercolor class at Friends this week.

After 40 years of teaching, Bray is enjoying that time in his life when he has the clout and freedom to paint what he likes. That means, for starters, trains, planes and all things mechanical, he said.

"I have a love of old planes and trains that's just a personal thing," he said. "Most of them have some kind of story tied to them."

Among the paintings in the Friends exhibit, for example, is one of a plane that was flown by German fighter pilot Horst W. Petzschler during World War II. Coincidentally, Petzschler now lives in Wichita, Bray said. The two have been friends for many years.

Landscape paintings in the exhibit illustrate Bray's skill at using color and layers of paint to achieve depth and visual interest. One, titled "Long Ago and Far Away," is an example of his fondness for painting the landscapes of his childhood, particularly in western Oklahoma.

"Mostly, they're about a love of country and of the people who pioneered the country," he said. "There's a heart and soul to the things I paint. I don't do a lot of modern things."

Heart and soul are especially important in his mixed media collages, which is where his affinity for abstracts and experimental images is demonstrated. "Aunt Grace's Closet," for instance, creates a sense of nostalgia, intimacy and quirkiness in its assemblage of stamps, metal gears, old papers and string on a dark blue background.

"It's really all about trying to tell a story not so much with words but through a visual experience," he said of his abstract works.

If you go

art of jim bray

What: Thirty watercolors, acrylics and mixed media works

Where: Riney Fine Arts Gallery, Friends University

When: On display through March 19. Reception 5:30-7:30 p.m. today.

How much: Admission free.