When I take a photograph of artist Rayhart on my phone’s camera, he asks to see it first. He takes the phone and adjusts it—cropping the angle, enhancing the lighting. I am not nearly as good as him at making things look nice. And, the lighting is bad—it’s about to rain. It’s why his art stand is set up inside, in North Hall, rather than outside on the street in front of Eastern Market. But even though outside is gray, and a little bit windy and all too miserable, Ray Hart’s art gives this day color.
Hart, who has exhibited nationally and been featured on the covers of college psychology textbooks, paints acrylic paintings on canvas. They are vibrant, often feature deep reds and yellows and oranges and purples and vary in subject. “I paint what I feel,” he insists. He doesn’t paint for anyone else. He paints only when he feels inspiration come. He keeps blank canvases ready at his Northern Virginia studio at all times. Sometimes, it can mean spending considerable time alone. “You have to quiet the noise before you hear their voices,” he reflects, nodding at his displayed art.
After studying sociology and business in college, Hart became a social worker. It was a stressful profession, he says, prompting him to write poetry on the side. Sometimes, he’d doodle his poems—“weird drawings”—so his then girlfriend bought him his first paint set. Never having painted before, on this day in 1997, he began to. Now it’s what he does for a living. He tells me that to be your most authentic self, you must do what you’re meant to do. If you are “obedient to your purpose, the universal will provide.”
Hart has something to say about each of his paintings. His titles themselves add meaning—“Shared Weight,” is a painting of a woman in a white dress on a black horse, and is a metaphor for life, he says; “An Auxiliary Retreat,” which a customer asks him about, is of a barn that is weathered but still bears weight.
Hart wants to hear my interpretations. For him, overpainting means letting your ego get in the way of your art. Rather, he advises trusting yourself—he just knows when a painting is done. People will walk past your art if you rely on outside validation, he says.
Rather, Rayhart focuses on his own instinct and emotion. He motions at his intentionally curated art, meant form a rhythm in the layout itself. Today he features calmer, more subdued works because of the rain. “This stuff tells me when it wants to be painted.”
To find more about Rayhart, visit www.rayhart.com, or visit the artist at historic Eastern Market on the weekends.