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Beyond Face Value: Glennray Tutor’s “Portals”

Glennray Tutor is one of the top 50 hyper-realist painters in the world, and that achievement didn’t happen by chance.

Tutor has spent his life turning everyday objects and scenes into works of art. At first glance, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish his paintings from an actual photograph, and, he said, he approaches each blank canvas with the precision of a symphonic composer or great novelist.

In his debut art album, “Portals,” Tutor showcases more than 30 years of his work, intertwining the colorful paintings with his life story, as told to his son, Zach.

It’s an approach Tutor said he hadn’t seen before in an art album, but was eager to share with the world.

“I’ve seen some interviews, but they’re normally done by art critics or a museum director or historian. But since Zach is so knowledgeable about art… I thought, ‘He’s the perfect one. He knows more about me than anybody else,’” Tutor said. “We didn’t know what to expect when we started the interview. The vague idea I had was that it would be sort of more concentrated on technique and how a painting is made, but it ended up being the whole history of my life.”

Tutor’s early landscape paintings capture everyday scenes from the American South. Many are set in Mississippi, but could easily find a home in Everytown, USA. More recently, Tutor has delved into the world of still life and pop art, pushing the boundaries of both, according to his publisher.

With work displayed across the world in public and private collections, film, magazines and book covers, Tutor’s still life paintings feature odds and ends most would overlook – jars of preserves, fireworks, marbles, dime store toys and comic books.

“Once one’s amazement at the astonishing precision in the paintings of Glennray Tutor has had time to sink in, the opportunity arises to contemplate the visual eloquence and his depictions of the small artifacts of life and how such compositions can say profound things about the nature of our existence,” the late novelist Barry Hannah once said.

Tutor concurs with Hannah’s sentiment, explaining that an object in one of his paintings is never just an object. Each item, from a matchstick to a jar of green beans, represents something about the world around him, he said.

In his jar series, for example, each jar is a metaphor for the human body and soul. When a person is born, they come into their body like the vegetables go into a jar, he said. The top is sealed, and for the lifetime of that jar sitting on the shelf, it’s safe. However, the jar will eventually be opened and its contents – the human soul – will metamorphose into something else.

While it’s not necessary to analyze the minutia of each detail, Tutor said it’s much more fun for the viewer if they do.

“You don’t have to go beyond the surface of my paintings to enjoy them, and I do it that way on purpose. I want to entertain everybody, no matter how they come to the painting, no matter what kind of intellectual training they’ve had, or lack thereof,” Tutor said. “If all you want to do is look at an interesting painting on the surface, you don’t have to go any further. But if a person desires to go into it further, they can.”

Tutor said he begins each painting with an idea, a photograph and a sketch, but said the final product rarely looks how he thought it would at first. He likes it that way, though. If he was strictly going to reproduce a photo, he said, he’d go into the assembly line business.

Still, precision has been a part of his work from the beginning, throughout experimentation with different mediums and materials. Citing a childhood memory of a visit with his cousin, who was also an artist, Tutor explained his dream of finding the fullest expression in his creations is nothing new.

“I remember when I was about 12 years old, my cousin and I had decided we’d do some carving. I started to make a sketch of what I was going to do, and he just started carving,” Tutor said. “He carved a tiki to put on a necklace. My carving was entitled, ‘The Story of Existence.’”

Tutor said each time he enters his studio, he hopes to learn something new. It’s an exercise in problem-solving, accuracy and above all, humility, he said.

“I come (to the studio), and I’ll solve a problem, maybe two or three problems that day. Some days I come out there and just create problems and go backward,” he said. “It’s kind of a humbling experience. If I get up in the morning and say, ‘I’m one of the 50 best,’ and come out here and I can’t solve a problem, I think, ‘Maybe I’m not.’”

“Portals” will launch on Aug. 11 during the Art-er Limits Fringe Festival. A celebration program with Tutor and Deborah Freeland will take place at the Powerhouse at 5:30 p.m. that evening.