Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday, January 29, 2012
Exhibit explores graffiti's art vs. vandalism divide

By Howard Pousner
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Graffiti forms one of those dividing lines in contemporary American life, much like presidential elections.

Some people view it as nothing more than vandalism, while others see it as street art. For evidence of the latter, just witness the number of coffee-table books focused on the topic and the growing number of graffiti artists, as well as those inspired by the painting style, who have been shown at private galleries and public museums.

For her exhibit, “Urban Works,” opening Friday at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center Gallery, Tucker artist Christina Bray said she wanted to explore that conflict. But the 11 highly representational paintings themselves, some of which can be previewed on her website (, don’t make obvious which side of the divide the artist is on. Though the painterly skill with which she executes them certainly suggests some sort of emotional connection to these altered urban spaces.

When we asked Bray for her position, she was quick to share: “Actually, I do see graffiti in general as a valid art form, and I think that when it’s colorful and is technically advanced, it adds vibrancy to otherwise run-down buildings. I like the graffiti that appears on defunct industrial buildings. These sites are interesting and appealing to me, and that’s why I chose them as subjects.
“However,” she added, “I don’t condone the activities of ‘taggers’ who paint on people’s houses or businesses.”

Bray’s acrylic-on-canvas paintings, which range in size from 20 by 24 inches to 40 by 30 inches, capture some of Atlanta’s most popular canvases for graffiti, including an abandoned Glidden Paint Factory, the Pullman Rail Yard and the Krog Street tunnel. The riot of color and rot of sites such as these has also caught the attention of many photographers, who have filled online Flickr sites with their images.

“I’m also interested in how each building is transformed from its original use by the addition of the graffiti,” added Bray, 40, an Atlanta native who did undergraduate studies at the old Atlanta College of Art and received master’s degrees from the University of Georgia (fine arts ) and Emory University (theological studies). “I like the way each building or space retains some architectural hints of its original use but has now been converted into a sort of ‘proving ground’ for the graffiti writers.”

An opening reception for “Urban Works” will be held 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. Callanwolde is at 980 Briarcliff Road N.E., Atlanta. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Through March 23. Free. 404-872-5338,

Connect Savannah, August 23, 2011
Artistic Invocation: Christina Bray uses brushstrokes to summon historical ghosts

By Bill DeYoung

Atlanta artist Christina Bray's paintings are still-lifes that tell stories - not in words, not in the emotion or pain in someone's eyes (there are no people on her canvases), but in an eerily invoked memory of place.

On view through Sept. 9 at the Armstrong Atlantic State University Fine Arts Gallery, Bray's Street Journal: An Exhibition of Documentary Paintings chronicles what the artist likes to call kind of photojournalism.
She photographs places that, for her, have some sort of spiritual historical aura. Then she paints - in acrylics - from the photos.

"For me, photography is just a completely separate artistic process than painting," Bray, 40, explains. "And it's something that I really don't have much training in. I go out there like a tourist, doing little snapshots, and then I certainly embellish when I do the paintings. I'll take parts of the photograph that I think need maybe a little bit more contrast or what have you, and sort of exaggerate that in the painting."

Bray, who holds Master's degrees in both Fine Arts and Theological Studies, focuses on places and objects that she feels might well have "traumatic histories."

Some of the paintings depict the abandoned asylum at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. "I'm not trying to give people the creeps - if I was, I could really exaggerate," she explains. "And I've seen paintings that people have made of mental hospitals, with crazy colors, stuff that to me looked like Halloween decorations. But I don't think it needs that. I think it's creepy enough just naturally."

Other pieces include graffiti-covered buildings she's run across in Atlanta's deeply urban areas.

"I've always liked abandoned buildings," Brays says. "I've always thought there was something beautiful about the sort of decay, and the spookiness of them."

Street Journal: An Exhibition of Documentary Paintings
Where: AASU Fine Arts Gallery, 11935 Abercorn St.
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, through Sept. 9
Admission: Free
Gallery reception with Christina Bray: At noon Aug. 31
Artist's website:

Savannah Morning News, August 21, 2011
Art & Soul: True Grit

By Allison Hersh

Atlanta artist Christina Bray has been fascinated by graffiti for many years, but she first began creating paintings documenting elaborately spray-painted urban “tags” in 2008.

“My first foray into graffiti exploration was through a visit to the Krog Street Tunnel in Atlanta,” she said. “The tunnel is on a heavily traveled public street and has been painted and repainted by serious graffiti writers and taggers alike. I made three paintings based on my photographs of the tunnel.”

That initial experiment evolved into a sustained project, which has led her to visit crumbling industrial sites, flood-ravaged homes and derelict buildings throughout the South. In “Street Journal: An Exhibition of Documentary Paintings,” a solo exhibit currently on display at Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Fine Arts Gallery, Bray focuses the eye on urban decay, from the abandoned Pullman Rail Yard in Atlanta to post-Katrina devastation in New Orleans.

“The paintings are like photojournalism,” she explained. “They report on subjects that have endured some form of disaster, controversy or transformation, or have been the setting for human suffering. All of the paintings are based on photographs I have taken and, in some paintings, there are elements painted from direct observation or from memory.”

Bray recently spoke with the Savannah Morning News about the appeal of graffiti, the lure of narrative and the power of spirituality.

What do you enjoy most about urban graffiti?

I find well-planned, technically-advanced graffiti to be fun to look at. It adds color and vibrancy to places that are generally drab, like abandoned industrial sites. I don’t think the graffiti detracts from appreciating the historic value of the sites. I generally think it adds to the value.

Your paintings often have a hyperrealistic almost photographic quality about them. Why do you choose to paint these scenes in such rich detail? And why do you paint these scenes rather than just photographing them?

Painting and photography are two completely different artistic processes. My only training in photography was one high school class, so my skills are maybe one step above snapshots. I use photography to gather information, but my chosen process for making the finished images is painting. I’m passionate about the process of painting, so I don’t mind putting the necessary time in.

Your work seems concerned with much more than just the shapes and forms on the surface. You’re also interested in the narratives behind the images. Why are those stories important to you? How do they enrich your paintings?

Making a painting with this degree of realism is a very labor-intensive process. I spend anywhere from 80 to 100 hours on most paintings. Plus, I have a separate full-time job, so I’m often exhausted, painting very late into the night. In order for me to sustain my own interest in such an intense effort, the subject has to be one that I find particularly compelling. It has to be a subject that I care enough about to do the necessary research and learning that goes into making the painting. This is why I look for subjects that have strong content. I can’t see myself staying up all night to paint pretty pictures.

You have a master’s degree in Theology, and your work definitely has a spiritual quality. How does spirituality inform your paintings?

I definitely have a strong spiritual response when I visit a place that will become the subject of a painting. I don’t simply wander around with my camera with the hope of opportunistically capturing evidence of someone else’s tragedy — and then go home and make a self-congratulatory painting about it. Instead, I allow myself to be genuinely immersed in the magnitude of the tragedy, and I find myself wanting to share what I have experienced with others.

What do you hope people will understand about graffiti by seeing your exhibition at Armstrong?

I think a lot of people will always see graffiti as vandalism, no matter how aesthetically developed it may be or how conscientiously the graffiti writers choose their locations. I’m not persuasive enough to change the minds of these folks. However, I hope others are willing to be open minded enough to consider that there are differences in technique and intent between graffiti as an art form and the simple use of spray paint to vandalize property.

Christina Bray was born in Atlanta in 1971. She earned a B.F.A. from the Atlanta College of Art in 1994, an M.F.A. from the University of Georgia in 1996, and a Master of Theological Studies from Emory University in 1999. She has exhibited her work at art galleries around Georgia. She lives and works in Decatur, Ga.

The Inkwell, Armstrong Atlantic State University, August 18, 2011
Exhibit showcases artistic side of graffiti

By Reilly Mesco

Graffiti is an art form considered questionable by many when it comes to form and function. Even more debatable is whether or not graffiti is beautiful. Fortunately for Armstrong students, artist Christina Bray's paintings may give them the opportunity to challenge all those preconceived thoughts.

The Atlanta-based painter's exhibition "Street Journal: An Exhibition of Documentary Paintings," a collection of photo-based paintings focused on urban and institutional sites in the South, is currently on display in the Fine Arts gallery.

Sequestered away in the Fine Arts Hall, the gallery itself is eerily quiet and softly lit. The low hum of the industrial-sized air conditioner outside the windows creates a barrier around the gallery, allowing viewers to truly connect to the artwork. All of these elements combined significantly complement the overall tone of Bray's paintings.

The presentation of Bray's concept was what attracted junior visual art major Chris Powell to the exhibition.

"The whole concept and the idea it was focused around was really engaging," Powell said. "It definitely was unexpected; it's awesome to feel the progression throughout the whole show."

Powell said he has enthusiasm toward graffiti as a legitimate art form, particularly in relation to Bray's representation of it within her works.
"I'm a big proponent of graffiti as art," he said. "If the graffiti wasn't here in some of the paintings it would be almost mundane."

That's not to say Powell found Bray's work uninteresting. He extolled the show as one of the best presentations he's seen at Armstrong.
The graffiti paintings are colorful and eye-catching. From straight jackets and old mental institutions to the vast destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, viewers are sucked into a journey through richly detailed paintings that each tell a story.

Bray paints non-traditional subject matter but ensnares the viewer with her incredible skill and attention to detail. She does "un-pretty" quite beautifully.

To capture the realistic quality of these scenes Bray first takes photos of dilapidated subjects, later transforming them into paintings. It was this method that intrigued David Warren, a senior and graphic design major.

"From a distance I feel like I'm looking at a photograph," Warren said. "The detail is incredible. You have as much information as you need to understand. It's very photo-realistic."

Warren also appreciates Bray's ability to convey a certain perspective.
"It feels as if you can walk right into some of them," he said. "You can tell she's a great photographer because she has really great perspective in her paintings."

Pang-Chieh Hsu, associate professor of art and the Fine Arts gallery director, was a member of the committee that chose Bray to showcase her work at Armstrong.

"One of the many reasons the committee liked her work was because of her skill of depicting detail," Hsu said. "Not a lot of people can do what she can do."

Hsu enjoyed the different perspective Bray presented, calling her choice of subject matter risky because her subjects are not necessarily ones that will draw people in.

"She's not painting what people view as beauty, and she's using a lot of subject matter that's not at all attractive to people," Hsu said. "But it all goes back to the question: What is art?"

The show is on display from Aug. 15 to Sept. 9. There will be a reception in the gallery on Aug. 31 at noon, where faculty and students will have an opportunity to meet and speak with Bray.