- Man Ray 1890 —1976

Biography

A Dada painter, film-maker, photographer, object-maker, Man Ray became one of America's most influential artists.  His artistic activity over sixty years included a professional career as an influential and widely imitated fashion photographer and as a much sought-after portraitist (despite his refusal to retouch his portraits,  his camera was by and large restricted to his studio and devoted almost exclusively to four areas of inquiry: portraiture, the nude, the still life, and hermeneutics.  Predominantly, therefore, his concerns as a photographer were akin to those of the studio painter, a highly significant position to choose during an era when faster emulsions and lighter equipment were luring photographers outdoors, into the natural and social landscape.

He was born, Emmanuel Radensky, in Philadelphia and was raised in New York City. He worked for an engraving firm and studied art briefly at the Ferrer School, but was largely self taught. In 1911, he began doing collage, some of the first non-objective art work being done in America. He was one of the first Americans to explore Cubism, having been exposed to the by conversations between Avant-garde artists at Alfred Stieglitz' Gallery 291.  It was the maestro himself, Alfred Stieglitz, who introduced him to photography.

Highly original and intellectually muscular in its approach to photography as a process, this work remains always accessible emotionally.  Man Ray, in his preface to a book of his own photographs, makes it plain that his is intentional by describing his photographs as "siezed in moments of visual detachment during periods of emotional contact."  No photographer in history can lay more claim to the label "conceptual"; yet he never achieved this by a mindless relation to craft.


"His nudes, unlike those many, are never less than erotic.  Similarly, his portraits devote themselves neither to the public personae of his generally famous sitters nor to the abstract planes of their faces, but rather to the electricity of their presences."

- A.D. Coleman



In 1915, he came under the influence of Marcel Duchamp and turned to Dadaist methods. Included among these early works is a collage self-portrait with electric bells and a push button. As a departure from general artistic  practice, he derived his forms from his own ideas, not from nature. Man Ray was a conceptual artist the term was invented.   Man Ray was more than a lone performer on the art scene, he was a founder of the Societe Anonyme in 1920, the first American organization to promote modern art.

The following  year, he went to Paris.  He stayed for 20 years, returning to the Unites States only when of Nazi aggression culminated in World War II.  While in America, he  lived in California.  In 1951, he returned to Paris, his true home.

In May, 1999, ARTNews featured him as one of the top twenty-five most influential artists in the western world because of "his exploration of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage, and prototypes of what would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art". . .   His reputation grows and grows as his influence is understood.  So great was Man Ray's genius that artists as disparate as Alexander Calder, Christo,  Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Avedon, Robert Gruber and a legion of other artists, built whole careers by taking a single element from him.  

Man Ray wrote of himself and his art: "The streets are full of admirable craftsmen, but so few practical dreamers."

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

To bookmark Janet Lehr Fine Arts Gallery website: http://www.janetlehrfinearts.com

View synoptic biography below.

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Man Ray, The Practical Dreamer  by A.D.Coleman

"If I'd had the nerve, I'd become a thief or a gangster, nut since I didn't. I became a photographer" Man Ray.

Man Ray has been less than consistent in explaining his initial motives for engaging with the medium of photography.  Whatever the combination of impulses may have been, they led him into an involvement with photography which was to last more than half a century.  In his autobiography, Self Portrait, he cites his need for well-made photographic prints of his paintings, to be used for publicity and exhibit catalogues.  He told Jules Langsner, "I had to get money to paint.  If I'd had the nerve, I'd have become a thief or a gangster, but since I didn't, I became a photographer."  His activity over sixty years included a professional career as an influential and widely imitated fashion photographer and as a much sought-after portraitist (despite his refusal to retouch his portraits, an intransigence he shared with Edward Weston.)

Apart from the dictates of his professional work, his camera was by and large restricted to his studio and devoted almost exclusively to four areas of inquiry: portraiture, the nude, the still life, and hermeneutics.  Predominantly, therefore, his concerns as a photographer were akin to those of the studio painter, a highly significant position to choose during an era when faster emulsions and lighter equipment were luring photographers outdoors, into the natural and social landscape.

These emphases were reflected in "Man Ray's Man Ray ", a compact yet remarkably rich exhibit of 42 photographs, one watercolor, one collage and four objects all from Man Ray's own collection, is now at Vered Gallery in East Hampton, New York.  Curated by Janet Lehr, the exhibit is full of surprises: rarely-seen or reproduced images that exist in only one or two prints, unusual prints of more familiar images, and a sampling of the quirky, provocative sculptural objects he made from everyday artifacts.  There were two variants of his design for the cover of his autobiography; a handful of studies of African and pre-Columbian sculpture, a creamy pearlesque "Nude with raised arms" in uncharacteristically light, delicate tones; several floral still lifes, including two - "Magnolia" and "Fleur," both circa 1926 - printed on an unusual brand of sensitized tissue.  With this caref8ul selection, Lehr effectively comveys the complexity and density of Man Ray's thought, without sacrificing the engagement with his sensuality and wit.

Highly original and intellectually muscular in its approach to photography as a process, this work remains always accessible emotionally.  Man Ray, in his preface to a book of his own photographs, makes it plain that his is intentional by describing his photographs as "siezed in moments of visual detachment during periods of emotional contact."  No photographer in history can lay more claim to the label "conceptual"; yet he never achieved this by a mindless relation to craft.

If some overriding concern must be ascribed to Man Ray's photography, it might be defined as the evocation of the sensual essence of thought - a vision of the mind as an organ of touch.  The charged and febrile sensuality with which he invests all his images multiplies dramatically when he approaches human subjects.  His nudes, unlike many, are never less than erotic.  Similarly, his portraits devote themselves neither to the public personae of his generally famous sitters nor to the abstract planes of their faces, but rather to the electricity of their presences.  There were dozens of these on view: Mina Loy, Kiki, Leslie Caron, James Joyce, Catherine Deneuve, Ferdinand Leger, Sinclair Kewis, Henry Miller and others, including the superb study of Pablo Picasso.

As G. C. Argan has put it, Man Ray's photography addressed the question, "Could one safely maintain that photography only reproduced objects, and if so, could the reproduction of things be quite so insignificant and without problems as was supposed?"  By accepting a literal definition of photogaprhy as "light drawing," Man Ray was able to bypass all presuppositions as to how a photographic image should be made and should appear.  Consequently, he became perhaps the earliest master of a variety of means unique to photography, among them grain enlargement, seen in Sunbather; negative printing and the Sabatier effect seen in Picasso's famous 1933 portrait and Leslie Caron and photogram (Rayograph) explored in the haunting image of a masked face with fingers, all in the current exhibition.

There is in Man Ray's photographic work a complete mastery of the process and an absolute disinterest in technique for its own sake.  As he wrote many years ago regarding the full range of his creative endeavor, "in whatever form it is finally presented by a drawing to amuse, bewilder, annoy or to inspire reflection, but not to arouse admiration for any technical excellence usually sought for in works of art.  The streets are full of admirable craftsmen, but so few practical dreamers."

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