Arts Writing Artist Features

Anna Gray and Collaborator Ryan Wilson Paulsen

Anna Gray and collaborator Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 2014 Individual Artist Fellow, Oregon Arts Commission.

Photo: Sabina Poole

Originally published January, 2014

The Oregon Arts Commission Fellowship does not have a category for artist-partnerships, so Anna Gray and her husband, Ryan Wilson Paulsen, had to apply for the Fellowship under either his name or hers. We can look to many artist partnerships that for years operated under the name of the man, until late in the game when the partners of Arakawa, Christo and Ed Keinholz were recognized for their contributions to the collaborative work. It is not the first time the couple faced this issue. At both Pacific Northwest College of Art, where they did their undergraduate work, and Portland State University, where they earned their MFA’s, the institutions would not allow the couple to earn a degree as one. But they are firm in their conviction that their exhibitions, publications and projects will be made and exhibited as if they are produced by one artist; in the time since they began working together in earnest, they have never exhibited individually.

Among the more intellectual and more politically engaged of their peers, Gray and Paulsen’s work has evolved from addressing primarily the literary (a beautiful color index of a Virginia Woolf novel, for example) to, as they say, “reading and writing holes into the political and institutional predicaments that make life worse.” Their artworks include photographs, books, sculptures, installations, lectures and writings. Their presentation for The San Diego Museum of Art’s Summer Salon Series was called Don’t Mistake Our Intelligence for Knowledge and comprised of research on drones. At an art event called Camp CARPA outside of Joshua Tree in Summer of 2013, the duo conducted a series of experiments (including giant slingshots and balloon lifts for the delivery of propaganda materials) they called Instead of Pleading Up: Improvised Airdrops and the Seizure of the Vertical.

The duo participates weekly in a politically-charged and deeply thoughtful reading and discussion group, teaches at Portland State University and at the same time maintains an active studio practice.

Their recent work reflects an evolution in concerns the artists express this way: “It seems to us that the world is closing in and our bodies and minds are forced to contend with this cartoon-ishly professionalized and privatized culture we live in. We felt that we could work more honestly and more thoroughly if we analyzed the world we are required to deal with (as ‘professional’ artists) rather than a rarified world of isolated ideas.”

In January 2014, Gray and Paulsen received a grant from the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund for Spreading Rumors, a year-long collaborative project with Portland-based artists Ariana Jacob and Garrick Imatani. Spreading Rumors proposes to create new modes of distribution for art and propaganda, including interventions in existing communication circuits.

They designed a poster for the Renaissance Society for the exhibition Teen Paranormal Romance. Gray and Paulsen are known for their series 100 Posterworks, posters of black and white photos depicting the artists holding up banners in mundane urban environments. These banners were imprinted with block- lettered sentiments about themselves as artists (“Wingin’ It” or “Thanks for looking”), about the art world (“No one ends up here by accident”), and greater concerns (“Private: The New Public”), or some overlap among these categories (“How is it anything new ever enters the world” held up alongside the couple’s baby). Perhaps the one that best characterized their early work was “Read. Write. Eat. Sleep.”

Their work has been featured in the 10th NW Biennial in Tacoma, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time Based-Art Festival and in the pages of NOON Literary Annual. Gray and Paulsen are represented by PDX Contemporary Art where they had a solo exhibition last year titled A Series of Rectangles.

Of what we might see this year from them: “Strategic littering feels pretty significant right now,” they say.

Courtesy of The Oregon Arts Commission.

Artist Credit: Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen

Exhibition: Oregon Arts Commission Fellows

Project Website

Oregon Arts Commission