Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 02 December 2022

Jaray, Tessfree

Jaray, Tessfree

Updated in this version

updated and revised

British, 20th century, female.

Born 31 December 1937, in Vienna, to British parents.

Painter, engraver (etching), environmental artist.

Tess Jaray trained at the St Martin’s School of Art (1954–1957) and at the Slade School in London (1957–1960). She taught at the Slade School until 1999. Her paintings adopt a formal abstraction in which colour and form interact in complex patterns. The resulting spatial ambiguities generate movement. As an environmentalist artist, she has carried out several public commissions including a floor for Victoria Station in London, Centenary Square in Birmingham, Cathedral Precinct in Wakefield, Jubilee Square, Leeds General Infirmary, and the forecourt to the new British Embassy in Moscow. She is married to the artist Mark Vaux and lives in London.

After graduating from the Slade School, Jaray spent several years travelling, most notably on a scholarship to Italy, where she encountered the work of Renaissance masters and became fascinated by the seamless integration of their art into the surrounding architectural space. This discovery informed Jaray’s work for the rest of her career, as she developed an in-depth appreciation of non-Western architectural forms, specifically the intricate ornamental patterns of Islamic traditions. She strove to explore through her work, a new vocabulary of space. Jaray’s painted surfaces foreground an interplay of surface, depth, and decoration and her perspectives sharpen the viewer’s awareness of their own body in relation to space. In 2016, Jaray mounted a highly politicised installation of wall works, entitled Aleppo, as a tribute to the Islamic architecture she experienced on a trip to Syria two decades earlier and which has since been lost to the ravages of war.

A large portion of Jaray’s career has been spent designing public commissions, logically extending her passion for architectural forms into the public sphere. Jaray made her first foray into public installation when she was commissioned to create a mural for the British pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. She would engage the practice of public art again in 1985, installing a geometric terrazzo floor at Victoria Station, London. In many of her subsequent commissions Jaray explores the use of industrial materials to incorporate her meticulous, yet subtle, designs into everyday spaces. Adopting an open-ended approach to pattern and colour she establishes structural rhythms that draw attention to bodies in space and encourage new lines of movement.

Over the course of her career, Jaray has simplified the forms present in her work while simultaneously adopting a more vibrant colour palette, to produce sophisticated and dynamic optical interplays. In recent years, Jaray has stopped producing hand painted oils on canvas, instead opting to use computer generated laser cut surfaces in her designs. While Jaray’s practice is executed through a range of media, she has remained dedicated to an intensive study of the complex qualities of space as it relates to human bodies and experiences.

Group Exhibitions

1959, London Group, The Royal Society of British Artists Galleries, London

1962, Nine Painters for England, Galleria Trastevere, Rome

1966, London Under Forty, Gallery Milano, Milan (travelled to the Musée du Louvre, Paris; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Stuttgart; Kunsthalle Berlin)

1967, Recent British Painting, Tate Gallery, London

1970, 3rd Salon des Galeries Pilotes, Lausanne

1977, British Artists of the Sixties, Tate Gallery, London

1988, Athena Art Awards, Barbican Art Gallery, London

1989, Approaches to Public Art, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

1990, The Abstract Print Show, Flowers East, London

1993, The Sixties Art Scene in London, Barbican Art Gallery, London

1998, Small is Beautiful, Flowers East, London

2009, The Rise of Women Artists, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

2012, New Possibilities: Abstract Painting from the Seventies, The Piper Gallery, London

2013, The Edge of Painting, The Piper Gallery, London

2018, Kaleidoscope, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (travelling exhibition)

Solo Exhibitions

1963, Grabowski Gallery, London (first solo exhibition)

1965, Hamiltons Gallery, London

1967, Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh

1972, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield

1973, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

1976, Flowers Gallery, London

1980, The Adelaide Festival Centre, Australia

1984, Whitworth Gallery, Manchester

1988, The Serpentine Gallery, London

1998, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

1998, The Serpentine Gallery, London

2001, Clifford Chance, London

2001, 2003, Purdy Hicks Gallery, London

2008, Lyon & Turnbull, London

2012, The Piper Gallery, London

2014, Landscapes of Space, Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham

2017, The Light Surrounded, Albertz Benda Gallery, New York

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Amsterdam (Peter Stuyvesant Foundation): St Stephen Green (1984, oil on canvas); Capital Blue (1965, oil on canvas)

Cambridge (New Hall Art Collection): Vault (1991, etching)

Leverkusen (Stadtisches Mus.)

Liverpool (Walker AG)

London (Arts Council Collection): St Stephen’s Way (1964); Terrace (1991)

London (British Mus.)

London (Royal Academy): How Strange (2001)

London (Tate Collection): P.P. (1991, on paper, print); Fifteen (1969)

Warwick (University AG): Salisbury Green (1964, oil on canvas)

Auction Records

London, 4 Feb 2004: Untitled (1984–1986, acrylic on canvas, 35½ × 28 ins/90 × 71 cm) GBP 1,260 premium

London, 10 Jan 2008: Constructions (plus 8 others; 9 works) (9 screenprints, 10¾ × 8 ins/27.5 × 20 cm) GBP 2,300; Composition (screenprint, 12½ × 12 ins/31.5 × 30.5 cm) GBP 2,300

London, 15 Dec 2009: Encounter Portfolio (set of 6) (1971, etchings, 12¼ × 16¾ ins/36 × 42.5 cm) GBP 504 (premium)

Amsterdam, 19 April 2011: Summer House (c. 1965, acrylic on canvas, 78 × 72 ins/198 × 182.5 cm) EUR 3,750 (premium)

Oxford, 18 March 2015: Abstract Composition (oil on canvas, 32 × 28½ ins/81.5 × 72.5 cm) GBP 1,250 (premium)


  • IIIe Salon international des Galeries Pilotes, exhibition catalogue, Musée Cantonal, Lausanne, 1970.
  • Globus, Doro: Landscapes of Space: Paintings and Prints by Tess Jaray, exhibition catalogue, Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham, 2014.
  • Globus, Doro: Desire Lines: The Public Art of Tess Jaray, Ridinghouse, London, 2016.