You can edit almost every page by Creating an account. Otherwise, see the FAQ.

Don Gray

From EverybodyWiki Bios & Wiki

Script error: No such module "Draft topics". Script error: No such module "AfC topic".

Donald Leslie Gray (1935-2005) was an American painter who considered himself a, "realist". Gray called his art," A colorful, substantial, new-realistic approach, with a broad range of subject matter, from the figure, still-life and interiors, to landscape and cityscape, done in oil, gouache and many drawing media".

Early Life[edit]

Don Gray was born in San Francisco, California on June 16, 1935. His family moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1942 when Gray was seven years old; he attended Creighton Elementary School.

Gray said that although he had always drawn throughout his childhood, he had taken only one art class in high school and received an "incomplete". A natural athlete, Gray said his mind was more on football at that time, and in 1953, Don Gray graduated from Phoenix's North High School with a football scholarship to the University of Arizona,.[1]

In 1954, Gray transferred to Arizona State University; his mother suggested he study art.

Don Gray met fellow artist Jessie Benton Evans in 1956, in Sedona, Arizona. Both were attending an Arizona State University summer art camp, headed by Art Department Chairman, Dr. Harry Wood, whom Gray would go on to call his and Benton Evans’ most important teacher. Jessie was a high school senior at The Judson School, and Don was a junior at ASU.

Upon graduating from ASU with a BA degree in painting in 1957, Gray joined the army for two years as a radio operator. Gray said he rarely saw a radio, but instead, "did a lot of cleaning in mess halls, barracks and motor pools, while still managing to draw".[1] During this time, Gray amassed a collection of notebooks, full of writings and sketches of army life.

In September of 1960, Grey moved to Aspen Colorado, where he married Benton Evans, and worked as a waiter at The Red Onion.

Gray earned his Master's Degree from the University of Iowa in August of 1962, and shortly after, the couple moved to New York City to pursue their careers as professional artists. They lived in a small apartment on Charles St. in Greenwich Village but, "with paintings under the bed and stacked against the walls rapidly compressing our living space", they moved a year and a half later to a 4th floor, railroad flat on Lexington Ave. between 59th and 60th St., across the street from Bloomingdale's Department Store.

Gray said he, "was taken by the city". Considering himself a realist painter, he was attracted to, "the beauty and excitement, it's marvelous rooftops, chimney pots and water tanks in endless combinations, it's signs and trucks and the ships and areas around the waterfront".[1]

The Art of Don Gray[edit]

Upon his arrival in New York City, Gray, "...had imagined that it was the center of the art world, filled with wonderful art". He said he was stunned to find the galleries and modern museums, "...given over to, as I saw it, artifice and formula, having little to do with responsiveness to nature".[1]

Red Snapper, Cezanne and Van Gogh "This is the kind of picture earlier artists produced to establish their right to be called, 'master'." -The Christian Science Monitor

In the midst of the early 60's NYC art scene, Gray considered himself an outsider, preferring realism over more lucrative and popular styles such as minimalism, and abstract expressionism.

Gray writes that, "This is the key period in terms of the shock and disappointment of being ignored by the art world (I knew I had something of substance to offer), this set the tenor of my life thereafter".

Gray said he felt a connection with Rembrandt, Vermeer, Chardin, Cezanne, Van Gogh, etc.," I felt closer to these dead artists than I did to my contemporaries." He went on to write, " Rembrandt and Van Gogh were more alive in their art than the artists physically alive, but dead in so many other ways. They were my companions".

He said he believed, "Truth resides in simple things (everyday, ordinary reality ignored by many artists and people) like fruit, vegetables, sardine cans, etc., and people, landscape, cityscape of course. I see and sense meaning in them, spiritual, poetic." Gray went on to say, " This is a cardinal rule for artists: paint what you feel you want and need to paint even if there is no rational reason for doing so. Artists should follow their gut instincts. It will all become clear later. Or, maybe it won't. But you need to do it anyway".[2]


New York City

In 1963 Gray held a show at the Waverly Gallery in Greenwich Village. It was here he met noted East Village collector Arthur Kouwenhoven, whom Gray would credit as the first person in New York to recognize his talent. Kouwenhoven, a designer for Maison Jansen, the Parisian design firm patronized by Jacqueline Kennedy [3], featured Gray's work in the Maison Jensen exhibition at The Winter Show in 1965, and introduced Gray's art to a sophisticated and international art audience. Through Kouwenhoven's connections, Gray's work became sought after by some of New York's elite including, Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt, Greek shipping magnate George S. Coumantaros, Wirt Morton, president of Morton Salt, the Marchioness de Portago, and Johnson & Johnson heir Edward Meade Johnson.[1]

Gray said his first big break came in the summer of 1965, when Domino Sugar heiress, Mrs. Frederick C. Havemeyer, saw one of his works at the Vanderbilt Estate, and became a collector and benefactor. That winter, Havemeyer included some of Gray's works in the nationwide exhibition of her collection.[1]

In 1966, one-man shows featuring Gray's work were held at Madison Avenue's, Gallerie Archard de Souza in New York City, and the Stable Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.

With living space again at a premium, "...and our nerves and health strained by constant noise, horn honking and carbon monoxide rising from the street below into our front windows, and lungs", Don and Jessie relocated to Florida, New York, 65 miles southwest of Manhattan. "It was glorious both from the point of being nature-loving artists, and sweet relief from the noise and nervous exhaustion of living in the middle of Manhattan." It was here that Gray experienced, "...a big breakthrough in still-life".

Gray described his first morning in their country home, "a beat up structure we called Rickety Acres" on a 240 acre dairy farm, "We woke up to find the trees by the front porch, where we were having a cup of coffee, filled with hundreds of red-wing blackbirds, trilling their hearts out in gladness at being back north. We were thrilled, wrapped in the arms of loving nature".

The Gray's returned to Manhattan often for exhibits, gallery openings, their collaborations with, "The Street Painters", and Don's television show.

“Artist and Critic with Don Gray” TV Show Beginning in 1975, in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Gray produced and hosted, “Monet at Giverny”, “Expressive Symbolism in Cezanne”, and “Examining Matisse", for his long-running, Manhattan Cable Television show, “Artist and Critic with Don Gray”.

Gray described the weekly show as, “exploring the condition of contemporary art, it’s essential dehumanization, and offering an alternative to the art world monolith and it’s negative values”.

In a letter sent to Gray, author Kurt Vonnegut, a regular viewer of the show wrote, "I was so stimulated and beguiled by what Don Gray said on television...I made it my business to see his paintings, which are regularly on show around New York City". Vonnegut went on to say, "I declared myself a fan of his!".[4]

83 episodes of "Artist and Critic with Don Gray" survive, and are available to view at:

The Street Painters/ American Expressionism and "Feelism"

In 1978, Gray and Benton Evans joined "The Street Painters", a New York City based group of figurative-expressionist artists including, Simon Gaon, Tad Day, Ronald DeNota, Myron R. Heise, Kenneth McIndoe, Ari Roussimoff, and Philip Sherrod.

File:Self Portrait with Dollar Bill Don Gray Art thumb.jpg
Self Portrait with Dollar Bill Self portrait of Gray during his Street Painters era, circa 1978

Artist Richard McBee, founding member of The Jewish Art Salon called The Street Painters, "a group dedicated to the primacy of the immediate visual experience of the streets of New York". McBee said, "They would paint their big expressionistic canvases standing on the sidewalks and streets, frequently in the midst of the crowds, to capture the vibrant life of the city’s streets; day or night, weather fair or foul. To them art was as much about personal encounters and experience as it was about aesthetics and ideas".[5]

In an article in The New York Times, art critic William Zimmer wrote that, "Mr. Gray has turned in an exemplary street painting of the Loews 86th Street theater...I'm glad to see that daily life on the streets of New York, the raucous areas of New York City, chiefly Times Square and lower Manhattan, is again the subject of vigorous painterly assault. American Expressionism, a slogan of the group, recalls German Expressionism of the 1920's, when garish colors and vigorous brushwork captured the lurid life of the Weimar era". Zimmer wrote that, ''Feelism,'' another designation that the artists have often given their collective output, does give a clue to the group's determination to skirt ''commercialism'' and embrace everything in the universe".[6]

The Street Painters received critical praise from figurative painter, Alice Neel, who wrote in the first Street Painters catalog, May 17,1981: “The vitality and life of The Street Painters is against the empty pretensions of today, feeling is considered important. When one enters a room full of street painters, the gaudy reality of today comes to life and living itself becomes important.”[7]


Don recalled he and Jessie were, "always longing for Arizona". He wrote, "Pictures of the desert, canyons and mountains, whether from Arizona Highways, calendars, or the stored memories of our minds, often pulled us westward".

In 1988, the serious illness of Jessie's mother compelled the couple to return home to the desert. Don wrote that, "We were ecstatic as the plane flew over increasingly rugged western lands. Nearing Phoenix, we could still recognize such features as the Superstition Mountains, Pinnacle Peak, Camelback Mountain and the South Mountains. The warm air hitting us as we disembarked seemed like an embrace".

Gray felt it had been too long to have been away, and said he felt it, "absolutely necessary for our souls to be back again".[1]

He wrote, "Each desert detail of gritty earth, stone, cactus, cloud, palm tree, oleander, and dusty vacant lot, seemed enchanted. We couldn't get enough of looking at, of feeling part of our rediscovered Arizona home.

"Cave Creek Landscape"

Settling in the small desert town of Cave Creek, north of Scottsdale, Don painted desert landscapes, and began his Star/Moon/Angel paintings and pastels, calling that series of works, "...a clear attempt to move away from an inhospitable earth to some higher, more genuine zone of meaning."[1]

Throughout the years, Don and Jessie made artistic sojourns to a summer cabin in Kittery Point, Maine, and Santa Fe New Mexico, where Don, "...loved the organic genius of the genuine adobe buildings, and the innate artistry of generations of artisan builders" and, "...did many pastels of them". He also did a 13 picture pastel series of the Zozobra Festival, pictures he called, "unusually overtly expressionist for me".[1]

Don and Jessie[edit]

With art being the nexus of their union, Don and Jessie supported each other's art, and worked as a team during their 45 year marriage, "From 1962 to the present, we painted, took our work to galleries, exhibited, met artists and others connected with the arts, and learned about the art world."[1]

Ted Wolff, art reviewer for The Christian Science Monitor, called Don and Jessie, “two knowledgeable, friendly, and ‘plugged in’ artists”. In an undated letter to the couple, Wolff wrote, “I believe in what you are doing”, and chose four of their works to be featured in what he jokingly called his,“Corruptings of the Youth” lectures, at various universities.  Of his presentation, Wolf told the couple, “I have absolutely no slides of works that say what yours do”.[4]

In a later essay on Gray, Wolff wrote that Don and Jessie, "...are serious, committed painters...they are neither tricksters nor entertainers. And neither are they interested in following fashion nor in being cutting-edge. The surprising and dismaying thing is how rare such artists are among the art world's elite".[8]

Later Life and Death In 1996, the Grays made their final move, to Downtown Scottsdale, settling in to a casita three miles east of Jessie's childhood home in Paradise Valley, in the Ralph Haver designed community, Villa Monterrey IV. There, Jessie and Don continued to paint, and became involved in Villa Monterey's successful campaign for designation as an architecturally significant, historic community. Jessie's great grandmother, famed Scottsdale artist Jessie Benton Evans, mentored blacksmith George Cavalleire, who's blacksmith shop's works adorn many of the community's homes.[9]

Gray's last painting, a self-portrait, was completed a few months before his death from cancer, in 2005. He was survived by his wife, Jessie Benton Evans Gray, who passed away in 2017.

The Rediscovery of Gray's Work[edit]

Near the end of his life, Gray had amassed over 3000 total works in all subjects, including drawings. In a letter to a colleague, Gray said, "I believe the quality and genuineness of this body of work has it's place, holds it's own against most things created today and in the last 30 or 40 years.[1]

Upon Jessie's death in 2017, the Gray's heirs found the house packed with Don and Jessie's works. The large body of work remains stored there, unseen for decades.

In January of 2024, a small portion of Don's works were released for sale at the Casa de Artistas Gallery in Scottsdale. A more complete selection of his works is being planned for private viewing, and a showing of his works is planned for Villa Monterey IV, in the spring of 2024.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Gray, Don (1962–2005). "The Journals of Don Gray". The Journals of Don Gray.
  2. Gray, Don. "Don Gray Art, Website".
  3. Abbott, James Arthur (2023-12-28). "A collector's guide Maison Jansen". Retrieved 2024-01-17.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gray, Don. "Letters from the Collection of Don Gray". Letter from the Collection of Don Gray.
  5. "In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon". Richard McBee. Retrieved 2024-01-18.
  6. Art, Street Painters of New York in Summit, New York Times, By William Zimmer July 1, 1984
  7. Neel, Alice. The Street Painters Catalogue. Search this book on
  8. Wolff, Theodore F. (1988). "Don Gray". Don Gray by Theodore F. Wollf.
  9. Liz Boyle, Director of Villa Monterey Architectural Review Committee

This article "Don Gray" is from Wikipedia. The list of its authors can be seen in its historical and/or the page Edithistory:Don Gray. Articles copied from Draft Namespace on Wikipedia could be seen on the Draft Namespace of Wikipedia and not main one.