Artist Johnnie Lee Gray (1941-2000) 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, and 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 country's segregated Lincoln High School in 1960, Gray enlisted in the Army where he served for 7 years, including an 18-month volunteer tour of duty in Vietnam. As a Vietnam Veteran and self-taught artist, Gray's work demonstrates 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 textures, vibrant palettes and repetitive forms showcased in his paintings are recognizable characteristics of his historical naratives.
The PBS television series, The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, aired nationally in the Fall of 2002 and prominently featured Gray's work. The series was sponsored by New York Life Insurance and gave new attention and recognition to Gray's work. The public response from the series prompted a traveling exhibition in 2003 curated by Dr. Gwendolyn H. Everett of Howard University, with it's official opening night at the Schaumburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, NY.
From 2003-2009, Johnnie Lee Gray's work was exhibited in such venues as the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda, Washinton, DC; The Forbes Galleries, Manhattan, NY; Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, IL; Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, GA; California State University, Northridge, CA; the Spartanburg County Museum of Art, South Carolina; University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, VA; Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC; Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA; Livingstone College, Salisbury, NC; Converse College Milliken Art Gallery, Spartanburg, SC; the Schaumburg Center for Research in Black Cumture, Harlem, NY; and the Cherokee County History and Arts Museum, Gaffney, SC. The collection of available original and reproductions of works by Johnnie Lee Gray is handled exclusively by Neema Fine Art Gallery under the direction of owner and curator, Meisha Johnson.