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John Lamb, Published February 11 2013

Moorhead artist dies week before career retrospective

MOORHEAD – Sunday was going to be a time to reflect on and celebrate the art of Timothy Ray with the opening of his career retrospective at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks.

The festivities will take on a more bittersweet tone now, as the 72-year-old artist died Saturday afternoon at home in Moorhead.

Ray was diagnosed in 2008 with colon cancer but over the past four years remained busy with art, said his longtime friend, Ann Braaten.

“I think his artwork and the fact that he had things to do kept him alive and helped him to respond to all the treatments he went through,” Braaten said Monday, adding that Ray had gone through six surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy.

The upcoming show, “Grids, Blobs, Smears and Stripes,” samples Ray’s abstractions from 1968 to recent work.

“His work defines a very distinct voice here. His work with material, paper for example, was unique to this area,” said Mark Weiler, founder and director of ecce art gallery in Fargo, who helped curate the “Raytrospective.” The exhibit shows at the NDMOA until April 8, when it comes to ecce to open April 12.

Ray was born in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, and taught at Minnesota State University Moorhead from 1970 until retiring in 1997.

“I always saw Tim as a model of the artist. Something I always hoped to achieve. Tim viewed his students as artists worthy of his friendship, concern and respect,” wrote artist and former student T.L. Solien on Ray’s Caring Bridge page.

Ray was an early advocate for abstract artists in the area, his friends recalled.

“It took longer for abstraction to reach the (Red River) Valley than it did the East Coast,” said Jane Gudmundson. “He was the sole voice (here) for a while.”

The two worked together on a 2010 show at Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Roland Dille Center for the Arts Gallery, “Abstraction 100,” which examined a century of abstract art and how it affected Red River Valley artists.

The retrospective will be Ray’s first solo show since a 2002 exhibit at Concordia College.

While Ray won’t get to see his work hang at NDMOA or ecce, he was able to see his nine-panel acrylic painting, “Day Garden-Night Garden,” purchased by the city of Fargo and hung this summer above the stairs at the Fargo Public Library.

“This work is monumental in scale and one of his best works,” said Weiler,

“Tim wasn’t one to boast of his accomplishments,” Weiler said. “Tim had a very unique perspective, not only coming from a different school of thought up north, but also his approach to abstraction and material. He also had an excellent understanding of art history. Through that I think he had a pretty powerful effect on students.”

“He’s made a huge contribution to the region,” said Laurel Reuter, NDMOA executive director. “He’s been an important teacher. Often students don’t get to see work their teachers have produced.”

Ray is survived by Braaten, his daughter Hilary and son Sean.

In addition to the 4 p.m. Sunday opening at NDMOA, Ray will be honored at a memorial service at 2 p.m. Monday at Peace Lutheran Church in Fargo.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533