Todd Gray (artist)

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Todd Gray (born 1954) works in photography, performance and sculpture [1] as a contemporary artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, California and Akwidaa, Ghana.


Writing in the catalogue for the exhibition Black is, Black Ain't at the Renaissance Society, Chicago, Amy M. Mooney writes "critics have noted that Gray's work is "fluent in cultural iconography, driven by introspection, and steeped in issues of corporate politics and racial identity" and that his self-portraits thwart a traditional read of the exterior likeness". [2] Gray describes himself as an artist and activist who primarily focuses on issues of race, class, gender, and colonialism, and uses these lenses to challenge binaries in the past and present. [3] In general, his work aims to challenge the viewer both by what he is including and what he is leaving out. [4]

Todd Gray
Todd Gray at the Hagedorn Foundation Gallery (7566206986) (cropped).jpg
Gray in 2012
Los Angeles, California
Alma mater California Institute of the Arts
Known forPhoto, performance, sculpture, installation

Early life and education

Gray was born in 1954 in Los Angeles, California. He got his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), Valencia, California in 1979 and his Master of Fine Arts from CalArts in 1989. [5]

Early career

Gray first turned onto photography in high school, when he took a class in it. [6] Beginning in the early 1970s while still in high school, Gray worked as a commercial photographer in the music industry, photographing rock and R&B acts such as the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. [7] Gray shot his first album cover at age 17. [6] He continued to do so throughout the 1970s, allowing him to pay for college and then art school. To date, Gray has shot over 100 album covers. [6]

Photograph of Gray's work on display at the Whitney Museum of Art 's Biennial Collection 2019 Photograph of Gray's work on display at the Whitney Museum of Art 's Biennial Collection 2019.jpg
Photograph of Gray's work on display at the Whitney Museum of Art 's Biennial Collection 2019

Later/Current career

After graduating with his BFA from CalArts, Gray was asked by Michael Jackson to become his personal photographer, which he did in the period 1979–1983, during the time of Jackson's landmark albums Off the Wall and Thriller . [8] When Gray asked Michael's manager Ron Weisner why Michael wanted him specifically, Ron responded that Michael said "I like Todd because he doesn't talk much." [9] Gray described Jackson as being "very sensitive to the overt racism of the American press, well aware that a caption can completely alter the context of a photograph, perpetuating negative stereotypes. He scrutinized every photograph I made and only the images he approved were released to the press." [10] Gray's work became greatly influenced by Michael Jackson's exploration of race and gender, and to this day uses photographs of Jackson in his art. [11]  His work is often consisted of multilayered frames with photographs of only parts of Jackson shown, such as a hand or his jacket, adding to the notion of Jackson as a superior metaphysical being. [11] These images are accompanied by more recent photographs of nature or interiors, many of which he shoots in Ghana. [11]


Todd Gray's work on display at the Whitney Museum in New York City Todd Gray's work on display at the Whitney Museum in New York City.jpg
Todd Gray's work on display at the Whitney Museum in New York City

Gray has exhibited work at Meliksetain Briggs Gallery, Los Angeles. [12] Gray's past solo and group exhibitions include: Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Studio Museum, Harlem, NY; USC Fisher Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Luckman Gallery, Cal State University, Los Angeles; California African American Museum, Los Angeles; Tucson Museum of Art; Detroit Museum of Art; Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, among others. Some of his performance works have been presented at The Roy & Edna Disney Cal/Arts Theater; (REDCAT), Los Angeles; Academy of Media Arts, Cologne, and the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles. [2] For his 2016 exhibition A Place That Looks Like Home "re-frames and re-contextualizes images from his personal archive that spans over forty years of his career as a photographer, sculptor and performance artist." [13] In his 2017 exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora, Gray explored Michael Jackson in terms of "mental colonialism." [14] [5] In 2017, Gray also created Pluralities of Being which was exhibited from August 31 to October 7 in the Gallery MOMO in Johannesburg, South Africa. This was Gray's first solo exhibit in South Africa and featured work he created during his residency at the NIROX Foundation's sculpture park in Johannesburg. [15] Pluralities of Being was next exhibited at the Palm Springs Art Museum from December 15, 2018, to April 7, 2019. In 2018, Gray's work was included in Michael Jackson: On the Wall at the National Portrait Gallery in London which ran until October 21, 2018. [16] In 2019, Gray was featured as an artist in the Whitney Museum of American Art's 2019 Biennial. Gray's most recent work Cartesian Gris Gris explores "the continued fallout of European colonialism in Africa." [17] This collection of photographs was exhibited at the David Lewis Gallery in New York City in July 2019. In 2019 Gray was selected to be on display at the Pomona College Museum of Art, which features his piece, "Euclidean Gris Gris," among others. [18] His exhibition will stay up until May 17, 2020. [18] His exhibition in 2016, a part of the Hammer museum in Los Angeles, took place outside the confines of the museum itself. [19] Gray wore the clothes of Ray Manzarek, who was one of the founding members of the Doors, and also a friend of Gray's; for a year. In order to see the "exhibition," one had to happen upon Gray himself during the months the exhibition was taking place. [19]


Gray's work is held in the following permanent public collections: the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles CA, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, CA, the University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT, the California Community Foundation, Los Angeles, CA, and the University of Parma, Parma, Italy.

Other works

On October 21, 2009, Gray published a book of rare photos titled Michael Jackson: Before He Was King.

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  1. "Todd Gray." Meliksetian | Briggs,
  2. English, Darby; et al. (2013). Black is, Black Ain't. Chicago: The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. ISBN   978-0941548601.
  3. "Todd Gray - Art, Bio, Insights - Artsy". Retrieved 2019-10-26
  4. Roth, Charlene (March 2005). "todd Gray at Luckman Gallery". Artweek.36: 20-20- via Art Full Text (H.W.Wilson).
  5. 1 2 Joyce, Julie (2004). Immaculate. Los Angeles: Luckman Fine Arts Complex, California State University. p. 52. ISBN   978-0974039817.
  6. 1 2 3 Brooks, Brandon I. "Todd Gray Makes International Noise with Newly Released Michael Jackson Book." Los Angeles Sentinel: 2. Nov 2009.
  7. Gray, Todd (2009). Before He Was King. San Francisco: Chronicle Books LLC. p. 13. ISBN   978-0811875066.
  8. Gray, Todd (October 23, 2009). "I'm With Michael". Vanity Fair. Condé Naste. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  9. "Todd Gray on Michael Jackson". Vanity Fair. October 23, 2009. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  10. "Todd Gray: Michael Jackson's official photographer - National Portrait Gallery". Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  11. 1 2 3 "Taft, Catherine (Sept. 2018). "Catherine Taft on Todd Gray". Artforum International.57- via International Bibliography of Art.
  12. Mizota, Sharon. "How artist Todd Gray fashioned another loving tribute to his friend, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek". Los Angeles Times. ISSN   0458-3035 . Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  13. "Todd Gray: A Place That Looks Like Home". Light Work. July 22, 2016. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  14. "Michael Jackson Remains Invincible – By jonathan-curiel – SF Weekly". SF Weekly. May 17, 2017. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  15. "Todd Gray: Pluralities of Being | Contemporary And". (in German). Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  16. "Media". TODD GRAY. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  17. Bell, Graham W. "Todd Gray: Cartesian Gris Gris" (PDF). David Lewis Gallery. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  18. 1 2 Wu, Molly (September 19, 2019). "Todd Gray's layered artistry on display at Pomona College Museum of Art". The Student Life: Pomona College.
  19. 1 2 Li, Jennifert S. (Oct. 2016). "made in La". Art in America.104: 158-159.

External sources