Ray Strong had been a landscape painter, muralist and poet since he was just eight years old. His landscapes are among the best representations of the California coast and Oregon. As a founding member of the Oak Group, Strong influenced an entire generation of painters in Santa Barbara County.
Strong was born in Corvallis, Oregon in 1905. While he attended high school, Strong began painting plein air with Clyde Keller of Portland. Realizing his passion for art, Strong enrolled first in the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (now the San Francisco Fine Arts Institute). Strong then went to New York, and studied with Frank Vincent DuMond at the Art Students League.
In the early 1930s, Strong returned to San Francisco where he helped organize the Art Students League of San Francisco. There he studied and taught with Maynard Dixon (1879–1938), Frank Van Sloun (1879–1938) and George Post (1906–1997), and eventually opened an Artist’s Cooperative Gallery. During the Depression, Strong painted murals for the WPA. Some of his 1930s paintings are now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
In 1960, Strong and his wife Elizabeth, moved to Santa Barbara, California, for "the birds and the banks." Strong had been commissioned to paint the backgrounds to dioramas in the Bird Hall of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, as well as some paintings for local bank. Until his death in 2006, Ray Strong was recognized as one of the leaders of the preservationist painters collective, The Oak Group in Santa Barbara County.
II. SGTV Video
"Ray Strong's Cronkhite Coast"
Produced by Nathan Vonk
Narrated by Frank Goss
This video documents the research done by the gallery to identify the scene in a recently acquired painting by the artist.
To watch this video click on the image to the left.
III. An Analysis of the Artist's Work
Ray Strong's paintings of the California and Oregon landscape are astonishing in their feeling for the rhythms of natural form. Where his first paintings from the 1930s and 1940s belong to the American Scene painting tradition, his subsequent work documents his affection for the western land. His most successful works place him in the lineage of fine American landscape painters of the twentieth century along with his friend and fellow painter, Maynard Dixon.
Shanties and Shacks
21.5" x 27.5"
Oil on canvas
This painting shows the transition from Ray Strong's Scene tradition painting to his developing interest in the landscape. With buildings jutting out at odd angles into the background and with waving grasses, the artist's interest in compositional rhythm becomes evident as well. According to the artist, the area is Mendocino. Ray and his wife, Betty, stayed there during summers when a friend of theirs was out of town.
Ranch by the Bay
32.5" x 54.25"
Oil on canvas
Ranch by the Bay is considered by many to be the definitive painting by Ray Strong. It is characterized by undulating, grass-covered hills, sweeping clouds and a quiet bay, subjects often found in Ray Strong’s paintings. Sullivan Goss acquired this work in 2007 from Richmond, California, where it had remained hidden in a private collection for over 60 years. The work’s style, technique, composition, age and signature are all consistent with the artist's best work.
Lassen, Rainier, and White Sands National Parks
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, CA
Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, CA
V. Solo Exhibitions
by Stephanie Kostezak
Researcher Stephanie Kostezak has investigated the artist's Solo Exhibitions for a forthcoming book on Ray Strong. The artist's first exhibition was held in 1925 at the Palo Alto Library and received a a marvelous review which is linked below. At the time of this show, the artists was just 20 years old. Ms. Kostezak has located nearly 80 solo exhibits some of which are recorded here.
Researcher Gabriel Melgar has investigated the artist's public and private murals and dioramas for a forthcoming book on Ray Strong. Mr. Melgar has identified over 30 mural projects consisting of more than 70 painted panels across the United States from New York City to San Diego, California.