- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

Collector Ray Garcia's pleasant, almost easygoing, manner belies his determination to get the art he wants. He and his wife, Hungarian-born Fruzsina Harsanyi, have assembled a collection of works by well-known Washington artists Sam Gilliam, Robin Rose, Yuriko Yamaguchi, Peter Charles, Leon Berkowitz, W.C. "Chip" Richardson and Jacob Kainen, among others, in their spacious Bethesda home.
Still, Mr. Garcia is an intrepid collector. After seeing works by aborigine artist Emily Kngwarreye (pronounced "ung-wahr-ay") in galleries all over Australia, he chartered a private plane to get to her home in the heart of the Australian Outback. (The artist lived in a tiny village called no kidding "Utopia.")
"The painter was Australia's Grandma Moses," Mr. Garcia, 68, says. "The white Australians gave her acrylic paints and canvas when she was about 80 in 1990. She really took off and painted thousands of paintings before her death in 1996."
Mr. Garcia, who recently retired as vice president for public policy and governmental affairs for Rockwell International, often travels with his wife, who regularly gives one-week, summer seminars for corporate and governmental public affairs professionals at the Business School of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Ms. Harsanyi, 60, is senior vice president of public affairs and corporate communications at the Washington office of ABB Inc. (Asea Brown Boveri Inc.), an international power and automation technology company.
Their visits have provided Mr. Garcia with plenty of time to scout artists in the Land Down Under.
Whether he finds them in Washington or around the world, the collector is completely and intensely involved with art enough so that he has filled two homes with objects he loves. One house is here, the other on the Patuxent River in Calvert County. The collection holds more than 100 paintings, sculptures and some prints.
"He's passionate about art and that passion makes art a priority in our lives," his wife says, adding that Mr. Garcia is also president of the Friends of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
The Friends are an important Corcoran support group that acquires contemporary artworks for the museum, helps fund exhibitions, organizes visual arts programs for members, and runs annual fund-raisers. (Mr. Garcia is also a member of the gallery's board of trustees.)
Barbara Jones, a former president of the Friends who has worked closely with the collector, calls him a "spectacular" man with a "vision about his collection" who "supports artists and is dedicated to the contemporary art world of Washington, D.C."
When Mr. Garcia and his wife moved into their Bethesda home in 1990, they decided to commission art for certain spaces and buy furniture in keeping with their collection. Among the works in the soaring, 23-foot-entryway are an attenuated Gene Davis "stripe" painting and a work by Nhat Tran. Mr. Garcia has helped the Vietnamese artist whose style derives from ancient Vietnamese lacquer techniques.
Mr. Garcia's zeal for Washington artists explodes from the music room, a sharp right from the entrance. Across from the baby grand piano, the textured, red-and-yellow Sam Gilliam "Expansion from a Beginning" (1990) zaps the visitor in the eyes. Robin Rose's smaller, stained encaustic works glow nearby (encaustic is a kind of wax). Peter Charles' steel-and-lacquer sculpture faces W.C. ("Chip") Richardson's oil-and-alkyd painting on the opposite wall. The collector commissioned Japanese-born sculptor Yuriko Yamaguchi to create a horizontal, dark-stained wood "Flow" for one of the walls. He displays an earlier Yamaguchi, "Metamorphosis #12" (1992), in the nearby hall.
The collector enthusiastically describes the artists whose works he purchased. On Sam Gilliam: "I first saw his 'drape paintings' at the Corcoran in 1967. His work already interested me when I bought 'Expansion' and made it the centerpiece of the music room. He's innovative, vibrant and a brilliant colorist."
Peter Charles' sculptures there's another in the dining room appealed to Mr. Garcia because of the patterns of their shadows. He also liked the way Mr. Rose manipulated the encaustic medium for depth. The collector values Mr. Richardson's "Fractions" (1995) for its vibrant pattern and color.
Mr. Garcia was also attracted to the sensuousness and Japanese love of nature evident in Ms. Yamaguchi's work, especially in "Metamorphosis #12." "Yuriko used wood, wire, newspaper, oil stain and cloth in incredibly imaginative ways," he says. "The dark-stained, horizontal wood 'Flow' that I commissioned from her reminds me of water running over rocks in a brook. With the curved surfacings, it's sensual and tactile."
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"I don't know where my art interest came from. I had no role model, it just happened," Mr. Garcia says of his childhood in New York City, where he was a regular visitor at the Museum of Modern Art. He remembers being fascinated by many of the works he encountered there, including Pavel Tchelitchev's "Hide and Seek" (1940?-1942) and Pablo Picasso's cubist-style "Three Musicians." Later, when he attended George Washington University, he hung a print of the Picasso in his room.
His family moved to Washington when he was 8. Their house, in what he describes as the "then-rough Southwest neighborhood," was at 619 M St. SW, now the site of Arena Stage. "My father was an upholsterer at the Roger Smith Hotel and my mother a maid at the Carlton Hotel. My parents just went to school through the fifth grade and my grandfather couldn't read or write. I wanted to succeed. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and college," Mr. Garcia says.
After Eastern High School, he joined the United States Navy in 1951 and worked as a radio man on a tanker out of Panama. With the GI Bill and part-time jobs, he was able to study foreign affairs and international economics at George Washington. After a management internship from 1958 to 1961 to get into government service, he was on his way.

The next stop on the tour is the family room with its 19-foot-tall ceilings and paintings by Mr. Berkowitz, Mr. Kainen, Mr. Richardson and Rosella Namok. Mr. Garcia shows the effect of dimming and intensifying the lavenders, blues, pinks and reds of Mr. Berkowitz's "Window," a painting that reminds him of Ayers Rock in Australia's Northern Territory. "Lighting is very important," he says while he manipulates the clean, white light of the halogen spots.
He also points to 23-year-old aborigine Rosella Frank's "Fish Trap," painted with household gloss acrylics. "She's the highest grossing, best-selling Australian artist of her age. She lives in a remote part of northeast Australia and used to fish for a living," Mr. Garcia says. "The environment is her inspiration and she paints the rhythms of the nearby river and ocean."
Though he calls Ms. Frank's paintings "the latest rage in Australia," he is certainly not influenced by fashion or the latest trends. The collector searches for works that touch his heart from Australia to New York City to Washington. Most of all, he's a messianic messenger for art through his efforts for the Friends of the Corcoran Gallery and helping emerging artists exhibit in the United States.

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