MORRIS – Artist Ray Grossi has been creating art since first grade.
He started selling art in grade school, when neighbors paid him to create colored sketches of their houses. By high school he was giving his art away.
“Ray is a natural,” said Joe Corsello, his high school art teacher. “From day one he just had talent.”
Grossi, of Morris, took that talent and created a business, Midwest Signworks in Morris, where he spent years hand-painting signs, an art that has started to fade with computer-generated signs taking over the sign business.
“I spent hours painting signs, the need to paint was fulfilled with signs,” Grossi said. “Now we use the computer a lot, and I still design, still use creativity, but I miss the hands-on creating something that will last a long time.”
The need to be hands-on has brought Grossi full circle as he takes brush to canvas and creates paintings, that until recently mainly decorated his home.
Grossi has been chosen as the March artist of the month at Lonnie’s Arts Gallery in downtown Morris, where his work is being displayed and offered for sale.
“He’s very talented,” said Lonnie Mathison, owner of Lonnie’s Arts Gallery. “He’s kind of a perfectionist, he brought in eight paintings, took home the eight paintings. He wants the show to be perfect.”
That need for perfection and attention to detail is what sets him apart as an artist, Corsello said.
“He has a lot of detail in his paintings, like Norman Rockwell,” Corsello said. “His teacher wishes he could do what Ray does.”
Grossi said years as a sign maker manipulating his brush to make letters has given him the technique and patience to create the image he wants.
Rockwell is one of the artists that Grossi admires most and has made his list of his three favorite artists, alongside Ed Hopper and Richard Schmid.
“I don’t want to mimic anyone, but their influence is present,” Grossi said.
The majority of Grossi’s work is rural landscapes that have a depth and vibrancy that makes the viewer feel they could walk right into the painting and feel the warmth of the sun, or smell the summer air.
“He captures everything he wants,” Corsello said. “A story is told in all of his work.”
Grossi said his love of rural landscapes comes from good memories, including life on his uncle’s farm.
Many of the landscapes will be familiar to those who grew up in Grundy County, depicting area farms and buildings in vibrant oil paints.
He doesn’t just paint landscapes: He’s done several portraits, including one of his wife sitting on a porch, and one of Corsello that he gave him as a gift.
“He did a portrait of me and did a fantastic job,” Corsello said. “He does portraits really well, he took all he could from myself and Mrs. Prenzler, who was a portrait artist and one of his teachers.”
Grossi still takes many of his pieces to Corsello’s house to get input and advice from the teacher he’s always admired.
“I was the lucky teacher that put a match under him,” Corsello said. “That’s the joy of teaching, watching them grow.”
Grossi said as life starts to slow down, he can see himself teaching younger people as his mentors and teachers at Morris Community High School, Corsello, Chris Hankins and Carol Prenzler, taught him.
“He’s a good teacher,” said his wife, Rose Grossi. “I never thought I could draw an apple, but it’s amazing what he can get out of you in two hours.”
He said he loves teaching different forms and recently has taught some watercolor.
“I love teaching watercolor and how to make the watercolor realistic,” Grossi said.
Grossi will be teaching at the Morris Watercolor Guild this month and is looking at other opportunities to share what he has learned.