Ray Vinella: rule­breaker


‘Imoved 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 ag o, 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

Cour­tesy im­age

Ray Vinella's “But­ter­fly”

Taos News file photo/ Cour­tesy L. Harper Pub­lish­ers

Ray Vinella from his early days in Taos, where he be­came a full-time painter and a found­ing mem­ber of the Taos Six, an in­for­mal al­liance of re­al­is­tic pain­ters who all be­came suc­cess­ful artists.

Cour­tesy im­age

The ven­er­a­ble Tony Reyna cap­tured on can­vas by Ray Vinella.

Cour­tesy im­age

Taos Pue­blo and its peo­ple are some of Ray Vinella's fa­vorite sub­jects.

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