Raymond Raymond at Pacific Sky
By Suzi Steffen for ECA
At his death, dancing to ‘80s music while embracing a sketchbook, the Eugene artist Raymond Komer left so many works that a UO art professor researching him has found barns and basements filled with his art – and found owners who plan to leave their trove on their Portland lawn for anyone to take.
That UO art professor, Jack Ryan, is mounting a show of Komer’s works at Pacific Sky Exhibitions, with a talk at the Eugene Public Library ahead of time to set the artist’s life and work in more context. The show will be the final show and the capstone of Ryan’s year of exhibitions at Pacific Sky, an experiment for his sabbatical year.
Komer, or Raymond Raymond as he wanted to be called, grew up in the orphanage and social care program known as Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska. He was drafted out of Boys Town into the Korean War and then kicked out of the military because he wouldn’t shoot at targets. Eventually he became an artist, wore out his welcome using all of the art materials at a school in Northern California, moved to Eugene and then lived a peripatetic live as a frenetically productive sculptor, collage artist, painter and sketcher.
He drew, in both senses, a community in Eugene. Ryan says there are so many wild anecdotes from Raymond and about Raymond that it’s hard to find one that will fit the confines of a public library talk. One will, though: Raymond died at the age of 66 in the year 2000, during ‘80s night at John Henry’s tavern. The paramedics found him curled up beside a speaker, clutching his final sketchbook.
That sketchbook and its contents are the source around which Ryan planned to organize the entire exhibition. “His life was embedded in his work,” Ryan says. “He believed in what he had to share, in the power of art as catharsis.”
Raymond’s Cubist-influenced, sometimes Aztec-decorative sketches include stylized elements and a love for pattern repetition through, for instance, the curves of the chairs at bars and cafés in town, or repeated images of birds, or mothers and babies, or bicycles, or human couples.
“Ray drew in public, in cafés. It was a way to pull people into his world and to start conversations,” Ryan says.
The sketchbook pages constitute both an obsessive eye and a record of the margins of Eugene society, the places that those without a ton of money or power held as their own. “He didn’t fit into any of the traditional cultural confines,” Ryan says. Raymond wasn’t interested in “a job, a family, a living.” Instead, he stayed friends with street punks in their 20s as he aged, inviting artists from all age groups into his life as he lived it in public.
Ryan says Raymond, whom the art professor met in Portland in the 1990s, was “a real outsider, a traveler, a vagabond, a street kid.” But he was also “incredibly sweet and generous and thoughtful and interested in people,” Ryan says.
His charcoal sketches repeat figures, with monumental adults and little babies; he sometimes mixes points of view in single pieces and always chooses angles that Ryan described as similar to those of German Expressionist Max Beckmann. The urgent present and hungry intimacy of Raymond’s figures have a definite Beckmann feel of the grotesque, even as the viewer starts to recognize images – isn’t that one of the pool tables at Luckey’s? Is that possibly a corner in downtown Eugene as it was in the 1990s?
Ryan, who has piles of Raymond’s sketchbooks in his studio, wants to focus on the ecstatic quality of his art. “The paintings are more like diamonds,” he says, but he’ll also show some of Raymond’s sculptures in the show, some tiny portion of the artist’s vast output.
When Raymond Raymond died, various friends had piles of his art. Many of his sculptures are packed into a barn, wrapped in foam to protect them. Ryan notes that other beneficiaries of the Raymond Raymond gifts are ready to toss their work – to leave it all on their lawn in Portland and just see who takes it. Ryan would love for a collector or other curator to take an interest, which is part of why this show at this time for the capstone of his exhibition year at Pacific Sky.
“It’s a lot of work,” Ryan says, “and it’s great work. And it’s going to be available.”
UPDATE: This interview was conducted prior to Ryan’s talk on April 30, in the Singer Room of the Eugene Public Library in downtown Eugene. Following his talk Ryan held the pop-up grand opening from that night at Pacific Sky, 180 W. 12th Ave. (12th and Charnelton). The show ran through May 20 by appointment.
See images of Ray Komer’s work on the Pacific Sky website.