Ray Zagrow: A brief CV
Ray Zagrow was born in northern Germany as the youngest of four children of a Lutheran minister. He emigrated in young years and lived in the USA, Sweden, Great Britain, Austria and the Netherlands. In his late 30s he returned to Germany and lives and works now in the Cologne area in Germany.
Ray has shown his artwork in numerous official and inoffical international exhibitions in Chile (Santiago de Chile), USA (Detroit MI, Rochester NY, Boston MA, Los Angeles CA), Great Britain (London) and Germany (Berlin, Hamburg). In 2014 Ray Zagrow was awarded the Verdienstkreuz am Bande der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Due to increasing demand for his artwork Ray has withdrawn in recent years from public shows and concentrates on painting by direct commission only.
Interview with Ray Zagrow
Q: Ray, thanks for taking the time. Let’s start with probably the most obvious question. Ray Zagrow is a pseudonym. Why do you use a pseudonym?
A: It helps to clear the view on the work itself. If you place the personality of the artist in the foreground you obscure the view on the artwork. I got this line of thought from Günther Uecker who told me a story how he donated a painting to produce some tower bells for the church of his home town. The congregation came and joined him when the metal was melted and the bells were actually made and they prayed and sang church songs – and all of this made a terribly beautiful and touching story. And I said to him, that it is a pity that these wonderful magic moments were not documented by camera. His response was that a camera documenting the “story about him” would have obscured the view on the work. And I believe he is very right. It isn’t the artist that matters but the art work. After all, people hang paintings in their homes and offices, not the artist’s skin. Thus, it makes an awful lot of sense to purposefully take the person of the artist out of the picture.
Q: You have done exhibitions in the past, but you stopped doing so. Why?
A: This is coincident with me using a pseudonym. An exhibition always has an opening and the artist is required to be at the opening. Quite literally, you start standing in front of your own pictures when you have an opening. In my opinion this is wrong. My art must be able to stand for itself. Even though I have had some great openings with wonderful parties and touching displays of people’s affection for my work, I wouldn’t want to go back to the exhibition mode of presenting my art.
Q: You are German and you live in Germany, yet your site is in English. Why?
A: I have been living abroad for more than 10 years and I realized that almost all German’s understand English, and so do all the foreigners I have met while living abroad, but only a few foreigners understand German. Thus, it made sense to use English as the language of my site.
Q: It says on your site that this is a “selected view”. Is there more to ray-the-artist than you show on your site?
A: Definitely. I have been doing a lot of photography and video work in the past that I don’t show on the site. The main reason for that is that I just haven't got around to put them on my site. I will add more over time, I guess.
Q: By having a look at your site, it seems as if some of your paintings are done in your living room.
A: Yes, some are done in my living room. However, other paintings have been done in hotel rooms or “on site” in the actual offices where they have found their future home. And now and then I also have a studio. I just paint when I like to paint wherever I find it suitable to paint. In this respect I am not bothered. I know my craft and I know what I need to have with me when I am painting.
Q: Some of your works have a distinct religious underpinning. Do you believe in God?
A: To be honest, most of the time I neither believe nor don’t believe - and I do feel quite comfortable this way. But there have been times where I actually temporarily found my belief through my artwork. I made twelve interpretations of the Turin shroud and exhibited them in protestant churches. That in itself was a piece of conceptual art, to carry a catholic relic in protestant churches, and it was amazing to see how during an Easter night members of the congregation made small altars underneath my paintings and found their personal interaction with God.
Q: The other dominant theme in you work seems to be sexuality.
A: Does it? I wouldn’t say so. There is sexuality, of course, but is not overly represented. It is just there as it is part of our life. And of course, as a young man I was more explicit about it, than I may find myself today.
Q: You show a lot of explicit references to other artists. Why?
A: I can’t work in a vacuum. These artists have had an influence on me. By painting with reference to them I try to show them my respect. Also, it helps me to understand them better, if I try to do a work that connects to them.
Q: Ray, these were just a few questions. What should people do if they like to ask more questions?
A: Well, one can always send me a mail to get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org