Everything’s Fine
oil on canvas. 72” x 72″. 2008

Ray Borchers places surrealism down on the doorstep of concrete truth and then walks the tightrope that hovers between them. Her artwork is an exhilaration to cause the senses to numb. Mournful essence doused in a bright array of color. She pulls confessions from within herself and transforms them into painted dialects on the wall. Shared realms of cognitive and dream-coated perceptions move constantly amidst the mind of Ray Borchers, leaving an onlooker like myself completely enveloped in a bewildered world and eager to descend further.

“I am tightroping between realms of consciousness and subconscious as a means of reality confronting certain subjects.”

Michelle Freya: Your work consists of intricate techniques that feel complex and deeply emotional. Do you notice a specific relationship between process and execution.

Ray Borchers: Emotion is a vital part of my work. I have always been highly emotive, so every step of making a piece involves intuition. 

I spend a lot of time sourcing imagery, whether consistently taking photos or flipping through books. That’s how the collages come to be. I combine these different images and arrange them as if they are telling a story, but rather than a narrative, it feels like a confession. And it’s a deep core feeling that I can only express through no other way but through the art.

With my large-scale paintings, I start with a focal figure that possesses an expression or body language I find myself relating to during a particular time. I usually paint them as underpaintings with an aspect of renaissance. There’s something special about trying to capture their expressions very quickly because the world that develops around the underpainting becomes very layered and pop-colored, and it’s significant to who the underpainting is. The main subject is observing this existence that has unfolded before them.

Pretend You Hear Me
acrylic, enamel and graphite on board. 48” x 36”. 2022

MF: Color exists like its own language to you. How would you describe your connection to it, and how does it speak through your art.

RB: When I select colors, it’s linked to memory. When I first started as a painter, my visual sourcing came from many family photos. It felt integral to me to collect and keep those photographs. I grew up in the 80s, and the colors featured in art during that time period were very transformative, warm, and tinted. There’s a connection between that and my underpainting process because I always paint the leading figure with a gold sepia tone, which my family photos have the quality of.

There’s this term called cryptomnesia, which relates to not recognizing something as a memory of yours, so you mistake it as a new thought instead. I like playing with color in the sense that color, too, can evoke a familiar feeling, and you’re not sure why. It’s as if it’s alive but simultaneously appears like a past life. 

Skeletons Can’t Swim
acrylic, gold leaf and graphite on canvas. 67” x 77”. 2023

MF: Do you often find yourself represented in your work, or is it rather a perception of the world you’re depicting.

RB: It’s definitely both. Honestly, the figures I paint always represent myself, like a self-portrait in the metaphorical sense, and what I’m going through. And then it’s met with the mashup of dreams, fears, desires, and memories. I am tightropeing between realms of consciousness and subconscious as a means of reality confronting certain subjects.

Although the environments surrounding these figures come across as very surreal and dreamlike to the viewer at first glance, I don’t know how I could be more honest about how I see the world. 

Shadow Self
acrylic on canvas, wood frame. 49.5” x 37.5”. 2022

MF: The titles of your pieces roll off the tongue with a cerebral and allusive intelligence. Titles like Skeletons Can’t Swim, I Die for Awhile, and Pretend You Hear Me, to mention a few. What is your experience when naming a body of work.

RB: I remember hearing somebody say that as an artist, once an idea comes your way and sticks out to you, you must have a way to document it. That’s how I think about titles. Some pieces can take up to as long as nine months, so there’s often plenty of time to allow these titles to find me. I keep lists of different phrases, or it could be from watching a film.

I made this painting once called Went to Sleep in God. I had been in a remote graveyard in the midwest amongst cornfields, and I noticed those words on a tombstone, later learning that people spoke the phrase for young babies or children who had passed away. That was during a dark time in my life, but something felt beautiful about it.

Skeletons Can’t Swim is an example of a more literal, lighthearted title. I got that from Jason and the Argonauts, an old claymation that makes me laugh. So sometimes, it has humor behind it or a reference from pop culture. The skeletons are warriors who are hilariously fierce up until the moment they get near a body of water and lose all hope.

Expressions of Possession
acrylic, gouache, gold leaf and paper collage on canvas, wood frame. 21.5” x 17.5”. 2023

MF: Who are some influences from whom you have collected inspiration.

RB: I have three innately artistic older siblings, two older brothers and an older sister. My artistry has always come from being around them and who they are.

Kerry James Marshall, Ed Paschke, and Karl Wirsum are a few of my favorite Chicago artists. Leon Golub’s work gave me the courage to paint wall-sized, and I admire how politically focused he was. His series Mercenaries is a superb large-scale example of how art can be uncomfortable but is necessary and honest. His art is both disturbing and beautiful, and I love him for that. A current figure painter that I am bananas for right now is Shannon Cartier Lucy. She pairs a realistic painting style with subtly absurd situations. 

Past Lives
acrylic and gouache on canvas, wood frame. 37.5” x 37.5”. 2023

MF: You seem to produce extraordinary bodies of work at a fluid pace. Can you tell us about your studio life and the time spent within a dedicated and imaginative state of mind.

RB: There is a habitual sense of constant midwestern work ethic instilled in me, and at times, I think, in a way, I’m trying to release some of that while still holding respect for it. The number of hours put in is essential, but a mass abundance might cause one to lose sight of the things presented in life around you. 

I now realize that my life is a studio within itself. I am forever grateful for a studio space, but I remember I can pull inspiration and produce art anywhere. I’m trying to move toward that thought process more and more. Art is what I care about most. It’s what I’m constantly thinking about. It’s about being kind to myself and going, “OK, Ray. All of this, this is all part of it.” But I’d also say to always go into art even when there is that block because you’ll never regret it. 

Lousy Jokes II, Collaboration with Jenny Pulse. acrylic, oil pastel, pumice on canvas. 48” x 73”. 2023

MF: You create small canvas pieces to full-size wall murals. What magnitude do you find yourself most drawn to currently, and is there one you prefer.

RB: Painting on a large scale is my greatest love. My favorite thing about it is the vastness of possibilities and the physicality it requires. It’s as if an element of my consciousness shuts off, and I become completely immersed in painting. 

Over recent years, however, I have treated my collages as complete works on a small scale because I also enjoy implementing the joy within large-scale work into small canvases. The shift of form has its own individual fascination.

Ray Borchers in studio

MF: Are there any new projects on the way?

RB: Right now, I’m mainly working on a series of 36 x 36 closeup portraits of faces. Before embarking on this, it felt like my stuff was getting super surreal, so I started this as an exercise to remind myself that I can still paint people and that I enjoy it. I’m really into it. The concept is finding the photo, which is usually somebody I know or someone’s expression I feel a deep resonance with, and then the background is something significant to the subject I’ve chosen.

Art is what I care about most. It’s what I’m constantly thinking about. It’s about being kind to myself and going, “OK, Ray. All of this, this is all part of it.”

The corridor in which you hold cryptomnesia close by as you walk through it is a carved-out passageway. Ray Borchers put it there. A mashup of dreams, fears, desires, and memories becomes the water to emerge and swim through. She floats upon the stormy swells as surrounding colors evoke life to return to those perplexed bounds of comforting vibrancy yet again. Beauty disturbed is the dichotomy Ray Borchers continually masters, as crying finds the courage to become a smile, a silent emotion the vitality to become secrets told.