November 2012 | By: Kate Burrows


Since 2007, artist Ray Turner has been creating portraits for his ever-evolving traveling collection “Population,” featuring paintings of a broad cross section of people in communities from around the country. The exhibit has traveled to Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, where it is on view for several months. This exhibit, now featuring upwards of 600 pieces total, includes portraits of the museum’s glassblowers, youth from the Hilltop Artists in Residence program at Jason Lee Middle School, other local artists, five portraits of Puyallup Tribal members and other members of the community. The artist selects subjects for his pieces based on several criteria, with the goal to represent a range of people from high-profile movers and shakers in the community to marginalized populations. The names of the subjects are not listed in order to illustrate an important element of the exhibit. “Part of the concept is the idea that we’re all these beautiful individuals, all with personal stories and connections with our families, but we’re also part of the same sea of people,” Turner said.

He said the Museum of Glass exhibit would feature at least 200 of the “Population” pieces. Each portrait is painted on a highly polished piece of glass featuring a jeweled edge. The background of each painting is clear, allowing the artist to determine different colors to paint gallery walls. A portrait in one gallery may be set against a blue-gray background, or vibrant green in another, allowing each museum to show a truly one-of-a-kind exhibit. His decision to construct each portrait on a sheet of glass, rather than traditional canvas, further illustrates the spirit of the installation itself. “Glass is a great surface to paint on, and it is beautiful from an aesthetic standpoint,” he said. “I also like the idea that these are fragile pieces. There is the implied idea that we’re both strong and noble, but also fragile and vulnerable.” His goal to paint portraits of ordinary people adds even more depth to the collection. “I may be painting someone who might never have been in a museum in their lives. But with this collection, their portraits will be displayed in a museum exhibit that may travel the world.”

Turner has painted a number of Tacoma-area residents, including students from Jason Lee’s Hilltop Artists, an organization designed to introduce students who may be struggling socially or academically to the art of glass blowing. Reaching out to youth has always been of great interest to the artist, who also has served as an art instructor, often in conjunction with his gallery exhibits that have taken place throughout the country. “I have offered workshops in different cities, and I love the idea of inspiring our youth,” he said. “There are many redemptive things that can take place if a child sees that they can draw or paint. I want to stir up the communities whenever I can.” California-based Thrive Foundation for Youth sponsors each “Population” exhibit. The organization is closely aligned with the artist’s personal views on the importance of community outreach and delivering a positive message to local youth. “This is a great organization that focuses on youth,” Turner said. “I’ve always been interested in reaching out to kids to help them find something they’re jazzed about. You have to be good at what you do, and a lot of kids are missing that message today. This is what I focus on in my workshops.” “Population” will be on view through February 2013. For more information about the artist, visit http://www.rayturner.us.