Actor Raymond J. Barry Bows Painting Exhibition at Hollywood Gallery

Raymond J. Barry - Getty - H 2019
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The veteran supporting star of films like 'Born on the Fourth of July,' whose "Butterflies, Words and Colors" opens today at Hollywood gallery The Lodge, calls his lifelong daily art practice "a sensual process."

Raymond J. Barry face is very familiar to movie and TV audiences from his decades of playing memorable supporting roles — among them Tom Cruise's father in Born on the Fourth of July; John C. Reilly's dad in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story; and Sen. Richard Matheson on X-Files. He was a 2007 Spirit Award nominee for Steel City and most recently appeared on Fox's Marvel series The Gifted. But less known is the elegant veteran actor's lifelong daily painting practice, in which he conjures Wassily Kandinsky-like abstract expressions.

With an exhibition opening this evening, "Butterflies, Words and Colors," at Hollywood gallery The Lodge (through May 11), Barry's work will be on view for all to see.

Barry began painting when he was 23 and an English teacher at Oakland Military Academy in Newburgh, N.Y. "I was coaching the varsity football and track teams," says the 80-year-old. "I was recently graduated from Brown University, and something in me wanted to do a creative endeavor. My family is full of artists. My mother was a painter, my sister was a painter and my grandfather was a sculptor. I always knew I could draw when I took art classes in grade school and high school. I had a natural affinity towards it."

He lived in New York for 23 years, and worked as an actor on and Off-Broadway, performing in what he estimates to be between 50 and 60 plays. He'd get to the theater at 7 p.m. after painting in his loft during the day. He presented several exhibitions during his years on the East Coast.

"It was a perfect accompaniment to performing onstage," Barry says. "It worked even better when I began to make films and television here in Los Angeles, because there are large gaps of open time, and the income is much greater if you work in those media than if I were working on stage."

For the past few years, Barry has rented an art studio on Western Avenue from L.A. artist Ed Ruscha. He's never met Ruscha, but their work shares one interesting correlation — words. Barry speaks of a deep connection with the written word, having published an anthology of plays, as well as essays and short stories. He even uses his journal as source material in his paintings.

"I project a page of my writing book up onto the canvas and I outline the letters, and then I take the projector away, and I have these letters written on top of images," says Barry. "Then I mess with them. I'll color them in, or I'll embellish them with dots. I relate to them as shapes as opposed to taking the literal meanings of the words. A big 'Y' is very beautiful, or a big capital 'R.' There's something very personal about it, because I've written private thoughts onto my journal, and then projected those private thoughts onto the canvas."

Another feature of Barry's paintings is brilliant color. "It's intuitive," he says. "It's not like I've studied it. I just like vivid colors — oranges, yellows, reds, blues. I love walking into my studio, and suddenly all these vibrant colors hit me. I'm there for seven or eight hours a day. And the paintings are large — ...some are six feet by four — so they cover the walls, and the entire environment is shimmering with the surface of these paintings. But I think [my color choices] are unconscious as opposed to conscious. It's like picking a flavor of ice cream for the day. You become involved with bright yellows one day, and then another day, your senses demand that you work with a very light green. Your intuition is at work all the time when you're painting. It's not an intellectual process; it's a sensual process."

His new series differs from Barry's previous work in that he has now incorporated the shape of a butterfly into many of the paintings.

"I don't know where I got it, but I acquired a fake butterfly, which somehow ended up in my studio," says Barry with a laugh. "But I love the shape of the wings, and the colors, and the spots. One day, I put that into one of my paintings, and it was beautiful and suggestive, and I could take off on it, because you can make a butterfly any color — they come in all colors. The shape of the wings are so lyrical. There's something so delicate about butterflies, and they also go through this transformation from caterpillars into cocoons into butterflies. My gosh."

Other actors who hit the canvas during their offscreen time include Martin Mull, Jim Carrey, James Franco, Sylvester Stallone and Lucy Liu, who opened a show at the National Museum of Singapore earlier this year. But while the disciplines seem to go hand in hand, for Barry they offer distinct benefits.

"Painting is a different animal [from acting]," says Barry. "It's delicious like a good meal. It's a very pleasurable experience."