A legendary American modernist artist, a noteworthy contributor to the surrealist movements and the Dada group of artists , Man Ray, born in August 1890, in South Philadelphia, United States -pursued a career in the ‘city of lights’ Paris, France. He was reputable for his avant-garde photography. It was innovative and experimental. Ray was also a prominent portrait and fashion photographer.
His family was associated with tailoring and designing clothes, hence much of Ray’s work included elements such as threads, pins, flat irons, sewing machines, mannequins, fabric swatches and other relevant items. Art historians have examined a resemblance between Ray’s paintings techniques and tailoring.
During childhood, Ray display mechanical and creative abilities which helped him in building his career. While studying at Boys’ High School, in Brooklyn from 1904 to 1909, he gained a chance to groom his art techniques. During this time, he educated himself by visiting to the local art museums, occasionally. There he studied about old masters of art.
For four year, he lived in his family home where his room was converted into a studio that he used for practicing painting and gradually heading towards becoming a proficient painter. Ray began to earn money as a commercial artist and worked as a technical illustrator at a number of companies in Manhattan.
Though he attempted to reproduce the styles of 19th century in his drawing and paintings, he admired contemporary art as well, like the work of Ashcan School and 291 gallery by Alfred Stieglitz. At this time, he still wasn’t very sharp. In 1912, he attended the Ferrer School, that allowed him to rapidly develop his artistic skills.
Whilst residing in New York, Man Ray was visually inclined towards Armory Show (1913) and the galleries of European contemporary art. Cubism was one of the facets seen in Ray’s work. After being friends with Marcel Duchamp, Ray began depicting movement in figures in stationary paintings. For example, The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows (1916), shows repetitive positions of the dancer’s kilt.
Man Ray’s first solo exhibition happened in 1915. Then he left conventional painting and got involved with Dada, a movement born out of negative response to World War I. However, Ray felt that Dada cannot stay in New York. So, he went to Paris, to live and work.
In Paris, he met Alice Prin (artist and model) and they fell in love. She became Ray’s companion, a subject of a few of his renowned photographs and also acted in his experimental movies. However, in 1929 his new muse was Lee Miller, a surrealist artist.
For the two decades in Montparnasse, Ray proved to be an eminent photographer. He took pictures of some important figures in the world of art, such as Jean Coctteau, Bridget Bate Tichenor, James Joyce, Antonin Artaud, Gertrude Stein. He performed his first surrealist show with Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, André Masson and Jean Arp in Paris at the Gallerie Pierre in 1925.
Ray also directed many inspiring avant-garde films, like Les Mystères du Château de Dé in 1929 (27 minutes), Le Retour à la Raison in 1923 (2 minutes), Emak-Bakia in 1926 (16 minutes) and many more.
Due to World War II, Man Ray was required to return to the United States. Ray had divorced his first wife in 1937 and married Juliet Browner in 1946. Later, in 1963 Ray published Self Portrait, his autobiography. After a few years, Ray died in November 1976 due to lung infection.
The magazine, ARTnews in 1999 labeled May Ray as the 20th century’s one of the 25 most influential artists.