Fun with a Pencil, and the Art Cop...
As a young boy, Jim Gray already knew he loved to draw. Mr Galyean saw the potential in the boy, encouraging him and his folks. Miss Kennedy crossed his path in high school and made sure he learned the most important rules of developing as an artist.
Attending Murphy High School, in Mobile AL, Jim received his only real training in art from the lady he would portray as the Art Cop... Miss Clyde Kennedy. She knew the rules of perspective, balance, proportion and composition, but she had two rules that she enforced constantly.
First, Look at your subject until you can see it in your minds eye. Look at it, study the unique characteristics of it, then close you eyes and describe what you see. If you can not see it clearly, open your eyes and look some more.
When you can see it clearly in your mind, it is time for the second rule: Draw!
She encouraged Jim to look deeply and draw constantly. Like other kids would practice sports to get better and better, Jim kept on drawing, and his drawing got better and better. I think Miss Kennedy would have to agree that her student became a Master. Looking at Jim's portrayal in detail, the emblem on her Cop's hat is an artist's palette. The emblem on her shoulder says Art Cop. Her holster, filled with paint brushes and pencils, says DRAW.
I had questioned Dad about the gentleman, with the green jacket and the two tone wing tip shoes, each time we sat and discussed these paintings. I never was able to find a clue that could help me help him to recall who the man might have been. Having looked at the newspaper under his arm hundreds of times, I had still failed to see it for what it really is. Then, finding the key pages and these handwritten back stories, I could suddenly see. It was not a newspaper at all, but in fact was the first Art Book that Jim ever owned, "Fun with a Pencil" by Andrew Loomis. The man and the book made a lasting impression on Jim Gray.
Scattered throughout the three paintings in this series I have seen my Dad paint in much the way he taught me about writing copy. Going back to the days of his Advertising agency, DD&G, the three partners would often work together, brainstorming on a concept for an ad in print. When an idea seemed to gain some traction between the three of them, he would say, "Now, boil it down". This meant to let the non-essential stuff evaporate from the concept. Take away anything that is not necessary to convey the message you intend. A printed advertisement, in newspaper or magazine is purchased by the inch, and you better make every square inch count. Billboards only have exposure to the potential customer for the time it take to drive on past it. Make your message clear and make the fewest words and pictures do as much of the work of delivering that message as possible.
In these paintings there are scores of characters, and each one has a story. Jim challenged himself to create a composition in which every character had enough detail, to establish firmly who he intended, all the while dealing with the reality that the space to tell that story was extremely limited. Additionally, since he was not creating a church directory page of portraits and also could not rely on written words to describe the essence of each character, Jim realized that by creating a Parade, he would be free to let costumes, props, and situations more fully describe each. Hence,in one small section of just one of the paintings, Jim captures five stories that bring him joy to recall. He had applied his old mantra to boil it down, and in doing so, he created individual images which captured his memories most succinctly, yet kept all in the context of characters within his Joy of Life Parade.
Burt Lahr is the quintessential Cowardly Lion, and this character brings to mind the entire cast of Oz.
Mr Roy Galyean is dressed as the prosperous man in the 1940's he was, but there is just enough showing of the title he carries, to know this is the book that really began Jim's art education. Grandson Evan is dressed as a Shakespearean actor, because he is an English teacher.
Granddaughter Hannah as the Cupcake Lady, because she attended Culinary School and focused her attention on creating wonderful pastries.
Finally, the little red trike is piloted by a balloon, wearing aviator goggles and cap. This image represents Jim's memory of a tricycle ride over "the bridge" in his town, which felt to him like he was almost flying! Working on this section inspired me to the seven lines of verse you are about to read. At the age a boy would still ride a tricycle, his judgement might not be so good as to expect him to always make well informed decisions, when a chance for adventure comes along. So...
While riding one day, young James Cleneth Gray, gathered his courage with "the bridge" in his sight.
Pedaling quite steady, Jim believed he was ready, yet nothing prepared him for the return trip flight.
Reaching the apex , not quite sure what came next, he turned trike around and proceeded to go.
With gravity increasing, his speed was unceasing, there's nothing to do but shout Geronimo!
The trike pedals spinning, it's pilot still grinning, 'neath goggles and cap of a man taking flight.
The high speed wobble, a great plan can hobble, so fingers grip harder and knuckles turn white.
Till just short of flying, between laughing and crying, back under control he heads home for the night.