IRONICALLY, Meredith Gray's first solo show is also her last in Savannah.
The encaustic artist wraps up seven years in Savannah with “South by Southwest,” opening Oct. 12 at Hospice Savannah’s art gallery.
Gray is headed for Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a change of pace.
“I have a wanderlust part of me, and I was ready for another change,” she shares. “I went from Connecticut to New York City to Savannah, and I just want a change. I’ve been to Santa Fe twice for skiing. I went to Santa Fe and I knew on my second day I arrived there that that was it.”
The drive from Georgia to New Mexico was Gray’s first cross-country road trip, and she admits being pleasantly surprised at the scenery.
“I was expecting to be driving through corn fields and oil wells,” she says. “Oklahoma City blew my mind. It’s a big, thriving metropolis. It’s cool, and it’s neon! They say the neon lights are bright in New York City, but I’ve never seen anything like the neon in Oklahoma City. There must be some sort of neon that’s been around forever there, but everything has neon lights there.”
The work in “South by Southwest” is largely comprised of Gray’s photographs she took on the drive, everything from Jekyll Island to Birmingham to Tupelo.
“It’s really my journeyman’s tale, but in visuals as opposed to the written word,” muses Gray.
Gray was inspired by Santa Fe’s huge, expansive skies.
“Georgia O’Keeffe has had a profound influence on me since my college days,” she shares. “She was a woman, she was very ahead of her time. She made that trek on her own—[Alfred] Stieglitz wanted her to stay in Manhattan, but she just wasn’t inspired. And when you get into New Mexico, you understand that draw. I had that same draw here in Savannah because it was the total opposite of those rolling hills I grew up with in New England. You have this spiritual ‘a-ha’ moment. I did and I can’t even explain it. It almost moved me to tears.
“You go through these passages and wonder how did anybody ever do that in a covered wagon? You see the different color, and Georgia O’Keeffe just nailed it. I don’t practice a recognized organized religion, but there is something so deeply, deeply moving in the soul when you get out into this vast land.”
Gray and Hospice Savannah’s gallery director Beth Logan had decided on a solo show for Gray long before her cross-country trip, so that was in the back of her mind as she traveled.
“I just couldn’t stop taking pictures knowing the show was coming up,” Gray says. “I thought, ‘Well, am I going to have enough time to do all these encaustics?’ But everything just flowed.”
Serendipitously, the house Gray rented for two months was across the street from the only museum devoted to encaustic art in the United States. Ellen Koment, considered an authority on encaustic work, held an encaustic workshop that Gray attended.
“She had this workshop for working big, and the biggest I had worked was 16 inches by 16 inches,” Gray says. “She drove us through the mountains to a town called Madrid, and she just had us think outside of our comfort zone. I did abstract, and I don’t ever think of myself as an abstract artist, but it just flowed.”
The “South by Southwest” show has Gray’s familiar, photo transfer encaustic work, but she’ll show her foray into abstract encaustics in the group show “Mosaic” at Location Gallery this November.
“Now I don’t know if I can go back to photo transfers,” she laughs. “If you mess up, you have to scrape your board back. I know some people can cover it up, but when you’re doing the transfer, it’s such a zen process. You can always put more layers on, but I’m more of an A-type, and I want this right.”