Wednesday, June 23, 2004 | 8:59 a.m.
Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on artists who have recently opened studios in downtown Las Vegas. On Wednesday, Las Vegas artist Mark T. Zeilman will be profiled.
What: Drays Place
When: Noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Where: 1300 S. Casino Center Blvd., Suite 5.
He's been heartbroken. He's been in trouble. The kind of trouble, he says, a kid from South Central Los Angeles can get into.
He's pursued music, left music, returned to visual art and eventually landed in Las Vegas.
"I was supposed to be passing through," Dray said in the entry of his tiny studio in the Las Vegas Arts District. "I was really on my way to Atlanta."
But that was more than three years ago. Earlier this month Dray was cleaning house. First Friday strollers soon would wander into his new studio and gallery called Dray's Place, across from the Funk House on Casino Center Boulevard.
Dray moved into the 400-square-foot rental more than a month ago, leaving behind a two-bedroom apartment near The Lakes. The studio, in the industrial Arts District, provides more exposure than his previous location.
"It's in a little disarray right now," Dray said while looking around the studio where doing dishes is as important as hanging paintings.
Taking a break, he sits on his couch in the living area, sips a Big Gulp and gets relief from the extreme temperatures via the apartment's swamp cooler.
There was a time, Dray said, when he expected to make millions of dollars as a recording engineer, which would allow him to "kick back" and focus on his art.
Today there are no millions. And the music industry is something he abruptly left behind years ago in Los Angeles. But musky incense is burning, and Dray is, in a sense, kicking back and focusing on his art. Not in Atlanta, where he was headed, but in Las Vegas, where he landed.
His paintings are colorful, abstract and literal. Inspired by cubism and graffiti art, his real-life inspiration is women. None of his work, he said, is inspired by South Central or Las Vegas.
"I like what DeKooning does, and Jackson Pollack," Dray said.
Of his own work, he said, "It's constantly evolving, especially from being around different artists, collaborating on paintings.
"This had to do with an old girlfriend," Dray said, pointing to one of several paintings of women. "It's called 'No Pity.'
"I was kind of brokenhearted. It's funny how the paintings changed when we broke up. They became more conceptual, thought provoking."
The sound of music
Born Andre Wilmore, Dray started painting in 1991. He was self-taught and learned through trial and error. In high school his interest in architecture was diverted when a friend took him to a recording studio. Deciding to pursue music, Dray, a keyboard player, became a recording engineer.
"I was doing pretty well at it too," Dray said. "But there's a lot of politics in the music industry. There's no loyalty to the artists from the company. They'll drop you just like that.
"With art, the only person who cannot make this happen is me."
But his music career enabled him to make connections with high-profile musicians who bought his artwork. Coolio, Alanis Morissette and Ice-T are a few musicians who have Dray's work in their collections.
Though he plans to someday move back into music, Dray is a long way from the Los Angeles recording studios and his childhood in South Central Los Angeles, where, he said,"I was a product of the environment."
"I had sense enough to wake up," Dray said. "But I had other interests. Once somebody finds out what they want to do, it changes them. And you start going the direction you want to go."
Referring to himself as a bad kid who went from high school to high school, he explains that the trouble he got into as a teen was "South Central L.A. trouble."
"Most of my friends had that kind of life,"he said.
He's the artist
Wearing a gray T-shirt, oversized jeans and a gray Mossimo baseball cap, Dray said he's often overlooked as the artist of his own work.
"I don't fit the stereotype," he said. "They expect me to be real articulate. I have a ghetto accent."
"At the Markman Gallery at the Regent I was just strolling around. People were admiring my work ... They thought the guy with the dreadlocks was the artist. Nobody thinks I'm the artist."
But his hip-hop appearance and "ghetto accent" haven't affected sales in the art world. In fact it was Dray's first sale in 2000 (while visiting his sisters on his way to Atlanta) that kept him here.
"It was the Christmas before the millennium," Dray said. "I had all my paintings in a van. I stopped by a gallery that wasn't open yet. People were waiting outside. I could tell the guy was going to buy some work, so I called him over to the van, showed him the work."
The two bartered. The buyer was a car dealer and provided Dray with a newer van in exchange for some of his work.
"That made me say, 'I should stick around, see what happens,' " Dray said. "The whole time I've been here I've been exhibiting at different galleries around town, as well as coffee shops.
A year ago, I would have never thought the city would be calling us to do a mural."
The mural is scheduled to be painted on the Reed Whipple Cultural Center on Las Vegas Boulevard to celebrate the Las Vegas Centennial. 5ive Finger Miscount, an artist group that Dray formed with artist Mark T. Zeilman and cartoonist Iceburg Slick, will do the work.
Their art is already on a mural covering one side of the Funk House in front of the Arts Factory, Dino's Bar and on seven aerial banners downtown.
They also painted the topless, winged woman on the side of Dray's building. Taken from one of Dray's paintings, "Adam's Rib," the mural signifies birth. In this case, it's the Arts District, Dray said.
Painting the area
The mural has brought attention to Dray's work. But it was probably the code enforcement officer for the city outside taking pictures that has given him the most exposure. A nearby resident complained to the city of Las Vegas about the painting, and Dray is awaiting the results. Meanwhile, he's getting a lot of publicity because of it.
"He doesn't know what he's doing," Dray said of the resident. "It's not going to do nothing but help.
"What's interesting about that is that the same day there's a prostitute on the corner in really skimpy clothes. What would you rather have your daughter see?"
Inside the studio, there's still some work to be done. Zeilman is next door; their arrival in the apartments (four to a one-story building), being renovated by Benjamin Cabrera, who bought them in February, helps fill out the Arts District.
"We made it what it's supposed to be, cool, not pretentious," Dray said.
Still, he said, "I had to do tons of work. I've done a lot of painting. I've had to put in track lights. The floor still isn't looking the way it should. There was a stench in here that was ridiculous. But now I think it's gone."
His gallery hours are noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, or by appointment. He's already hosted plenty of company.
"Everybody's gravitating here," Dray said. "It makes the chance worth it. This is a whole new experience for me, being around other artists.
"Sometimes I get homesick. I miss the beach. And there's just a whole lot more culture going on. But I think that's what's going to happen here. I'm excited."