She couldn't feel it seep into her fingers, the stuff at a microscopic level falling through her pores and into her blood, but Audrey Gray knew that it was there, and that it was toxic. So, forsaking acrylic and latex paints and substances with long names and complex chemical bases, she reverted to the natural, for earth, sand and dirt.
Small and bespectacled, Gray's easy to picture sifting through the earth. She's been doing it "officially" since age 6, when she sat in the backyard breaking berries over mud-and-plant concoctions that she called "wine coolers," or spreading dirt across glue on paper and then shaking it off. At 33, she analyzes and creates art differently, but the basic principle, the usage of natural things, is the same.
"I know most artists have this feeling when you're really doing it in the right place, you're drawing on something bigger than yourself, says Gray, a Colorado native. "And if you can draw on something bigger than yourself and translate that, then you can create something that's transformative for people."
Michaela Hightower, who owns Soirée, the newly opened space that will be a temporary home for Gray's work, traces her young daughter's finger over one piece and says, "That's sand." She adds that we can't touch art, but we can touch Audrey's art. And this is what's so remarkable about Gray's work: When the chubby finger goes across the piece, it touches a dark purple that comes from outside the Painted Desert, a lighter shade of volcanic ash from Salida, and a blended lighter purple from Calhan.
Gray finds most of the pigments herself, marking her locations so she can remember where she found them. Back home, she sifts sand to the proper consistency and texture. After drawing her forms in ink, then applying them to canvas, she adds the colored earth to make a tapestry of shape.
It's odd to think that you could find similar forms just outside, but maybe that's what it's about: remembering that it was there under your feet all along.