When Todd Gray was a child, his mother had him fill out a book that asked him to name his favorite book, food, etc. At the age of 6, he wrote down that his favorite color was “psychedelic.”
Todd points out that he was born in the heyday of the bright and bold visuals of pop and op art — and that aesthetic stuck with him.
If he meets someone at a party, he simply describes himself as “a contemporary pop artist who works three dimensionally.” But his sculptural assemblages of painted-wood boxes delve into the legacies of iconic artists from the 1960s. He combines Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo pad boxes, Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-book graphics, Robert Indiana’s numbers, polka dots, stripes, and splats with today’s social-media culture of happy-face emojis and hashtags.
Todd, who has lived in Los Angeles most of his life, earned a degree in clinical psychology from UCLA and then traveled for a year.
“When I got back, I realized I didn’t want to listen to people’s problems for the rest of my life,” he says. “I did a lot of soul searching and decided to devote myself to something I enjoy. I concluded that being an artist was going to be my identity.
“I started painting on canvas,” he continues. “My work was very colorful, very opaque, and visually three-dimensional. I remember saying that one day my work would come off the canvas; and in no time at all, I started painting cubes for geometric sculptures.”
Whether he is making a wall sculpture, a tower, or a coffee table, Todd starts with the form, stacking boxes until he has something “balanced and pleasing to the eye.” At times, he draws upon a list of ideas he wants to pursue and makes the concept (e.g., Wonder Woman) fit the form.
“Fortunately, what I do has a broad range. I can make a small pedestal or a tower, build furniture or a playground. I look at the boxes as being five-sided canvases,” he says, pointing out that one side faces a wall, bottom surface, or side of another box. His smallest pieces fit on tables; the largest (with some 50 boxes) measures 12 feet wide. All are made with half-inch birch plywood.
Todd sources his boxes from himself. That is, he owns a cabinet company (his business and studio share a building), and he has staff and art assistants that relieve him of the labor of box construction, sanding, priming, and spray finishing, which frees him to create, paint, and assemble.
“I work on multiple pieces at a time,” he says. “As I have gotten older, I have learned how to delegate responsibilities so I can stay in the lane that supports what I do best. By doing less, I can do more.”
Todd says the best compliment is “for somebody to say my work is really smart.”
His greatest skill beyond art, he claims, is “overcoming chronic anxiety and living happily in this world on a daily basis.”