Art on a large scale

Artist Don Gray works on one of his pieces of artwork Tuesday at Crow's Shadow Institute for the Arts east of Mission.<BR><I>Staff photo by E.J. Harris</I>

For Union artist Don Gray, monotypes are a whole new ballgame, one he's not yet entirely comfortable with. The results of printing from a plexiglass square are surprising, he said - no two monotypes are exactly the same.

"It's always going to be unexpected with printmaking," he said. "That's part of the joy of it ... the fun and frustration."

After completing a two-week residency at Crow's Shadow Institute of the Arts, Gray will have had plenty of practice. He's churned out dozens of prints, mostly of large stones he discovered near Ladd Marsh. He pulled into the parking lot one day and noticed the boulders, which were placed so that motorists couldn't drive into the wildlife area. As if seeing them for the first time, Gray was struck by the stones' seeming permanence, yet fluidity, within nature.

"These stones have a lifetime - I just can't perceive it," he said.

Gray painted the stones individually and hung them in a row, just like in the parking lot. His stone monotypes echo the paintings, but the color in Gray's prints is strong - almost abstract - which is a step away from his usual representational work.

Since he was very young, Gray has honed a style of landscape painting that luminously celebrates the natural world. He grew up in Wallowa County, where he spent many hours camping and hiking with his family.

"I just grew to love the land, and I love looking at light - that's what it's all about," he said. "The subject almost doesn't matter."

When Gray is at home in Union, he paints a postcard-sized scene of the forest and mountains around his house almost every day. Part of a community of like-minded "daily painters" around the world, Gray posts his work on the web and sends it to subscribers.

"One person said, it's like you give me a flower every day," Gray said. "So, there are worse things than that."

Gray is also a well-known for the opposite extreme: murals. He has finished enormous paintings on a variety of surfaces all over the country - Civil War scenes in Cuba, Missouri, the "Great Debate" between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in Ottawa, Illinois, and numerous theatrical backdrops and pioneer scenes.

After he's finished at Crow's Shadow this week, Gray will begin work on his next project: a scene of the Umatilla River Basin from the top of Cabbage Hill for the newly remodeled Pendleton Convention Center. Gray was one of two artists - James Lavadour is the other - chosen to create art for the center.

"We wanted to feature our Eastern Oregon colors and geology, and both Don and Jim specialize in those kind of scenes," Pat Kennedy, executive administrator for the convention center, said.

Lavadour's mural will hang in the center's new lobby, he said, and Gray's will be in the main hall, on a removable panel so it can be taken down during basketball games.

"We're really excited," Kennedy said. "It's going to carry our theme all the way through the building."

The remodel should be done by the end of July, Kennedy added, after which the convention center will hold an open house to display the new lobby and artwork.

Gray said the mural, which will be 8 by 16 feet, is "like a postage stamp" compared to some of his other works.

"Art ends up being a hermit life - it's just me and my canvas. The mural projects are another way for me to get out of my shell," he said with a smile. "I'm kind of their performance art for two weeks."

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