Art character

Ray Vinella: rule breaker

By Rose Mary Diaz (Santa Clara Pueblo)
Posted 10/5/18

“I moved to Taos because of the great light and subject matter in the landscape,” explains artist Ray Vinella. “I’d been working as an illustrator at an advertising firm on La …

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Art character

Ray Vinella: rule breaker

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“I moved to Taos because of the great light and subject matter in the landscape,” explains artist Ray Vinella. “I’d been working as an illustrator at an advertising firm on La Cienega (Boulevard, in Beverly Hills, California). I saw a painting by Nicolai Fechin and it blew me away: the color, the composition! I said, ‘Where does he live?’ When I learned he lived in Taos, I was inspired to move here.”

That was in 1969, many landscapes ago, when Vinella’s own eye for color and composition was met with infinite inspiration for both: endless sprawls of summer and fall foliage blooming in yellow and gold set against sharp-peaked, dark blue mountains (“Taos Chamisa”); reflections of tall, sparkly leafed trees in spring’s cool forest ponds (“Forest Pond,” “Trout Stream”); winter’s snow-dusted plains and gray cottonwoods in front of the smooth adobe walls of Taos Pueblo (“Taos Pueblo”). 

Vinella, who was born in Bari, Italy and grew up in New York’s Lower East Side, started painting at 14. His natural gift for drawing drew praise from family and friends and was encouragement for the young artist. 

“I got a lot of pats on the head,” he happily recalls, “and I wanted more.” After joining the Air Force during the Korean War, Vinella attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, where more pats came in the form of an advanced degree in illustration, followed by employment at Lockheed Martin as an industrial illustrator and at Disney Productions. Then, the vision-changing Fechin exhibit.

Vinella’s move introduced him to fellow artists and new Taos arrivals Walt Gonske and Ron Barsano to whom he proposed the idea of forming a group. They agreed, and the three extended invitations to Robert Daughters, Rod Goebel and Julian Robles, whose acceptance completed the Taos Six. The sextuplet thrived from 1973 until 1977 and is best known for its rule-breaking use of light and color in representational works, mostly depicting the desert Southwest.

Vinella, who “never procrastinates,” is passionate about getting things just so in his work and about getting his oil-, acrylic-, pastel-, charcoal- and sometimes sculpture-rendered messages delivered. 

“If I fail at something, I go back and try to figure out why it didn’t work and try to solve the problem,” he says. “If I want to say something about snow or wind or rain, I try to express the essence of that. It’s not just about painting the picture; it’s about capturing an idea, capturing the essence of what I want to say.”   

The artist’s eponymous coffee-table book holds much of his art story and is a grand addition to any collection. A sense of mystery lingers when one beholds his paintings in person — a not-quite-placeable memory in the blowing rain and swirling air, a sense of belonging to the land in familiar and yet-to-be discovered ways.   

Vinella’s work is represented by Village Gallery at Taos Retirement Village, where the artist resides. For more information, contact rayvinella@gmail.com.

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