Review: Funk Soul Brother 

click to enlarge Work by William Denton Ray is on view at The Harrison Center.
  • Work by William Denton Ray is on view at The Harrison Center.

3 stars

Harrison Center for the Arts, through Oct. 28.

William Denton Ray presents a large grouping — I counted 53 pieces — of mixed media works, mostly reliefs depicting fictitious characters, comprised of 3 or more layers made of pieces of wood, MDF panel and/or di-bond, with acrylic, colored pencils, ink, paint markers and spray paint. The work "explores his whimsical imagination of soulful characters and imaginary deities," according to the exhibition text.

Whimsical and imaginative are good words to describe Ray's art indeed. His craftsmanship and painterly skill are undeniable, and the work is fun and engaging for the viewer and would certainly "pop" in most people's homes.

Ray falls flat, however, insofar as presenting a regrettably titled, conceptually hollow grouping of works. Funk Soul Brother is certainly a trite title for a fine art exhibition, and this underlines the fact that there is really no concept tying the works in the show together. The exhibition text states that "the characters become a central focus," but this is the only focus beside showcasing Ray's artistic skill and technique — these characters tell no stories, and there are far too many of them for the viewer to weave meaningful narratives of their own.

There are also a slew of references to various world cultures that feel inappropriately borrowed and devoid of context; they are never hashed out and will likely leave viewers scratching their heads. The best works in the show are the largest ones, such as "The Whim Idol" (pictured), which Ray had professionally die-cut.

More focus on the larger, better-realized works would be beneficial. If Ray can tighten his focus and increase the intellectual depth of his artwork, expect great things from him in the future.


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