Johnnie Lee Gray was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina in 1941. In his early years Gray demonstrated artistic talent, painting and drawing as a way to express his emotions and depict his surroundings. Working alongside his grandparents in the fields of their sharecropper farm, and later as a carpenter, textile mill worker, house painter, Gray learned early on to use the materials of his milieu to create works of art that drew on his memories and experiences as a black American man.
After graduating from the county’s segregated Lincoln High School in 1960, Gray enlisted in the Army, where he served for seven years, including an 18-month volunteer tour of duty in Vietnam. As a Vietnam Veteran and self-taught artist, Gray’s work illustrated his experiences in the military as an African-American and the participation of black people in the history of the American and world landscape. Described as “visionary” “outsider” artist, the patterned shapes, visual texture, vibrant palettes and repetitive forms showcased in his paintings are recognizable characteristics of his historical narratives. read full bio