Portland-based artist Ralph Pugay paints scenarios that are perplexingly surreal and often border on political incorrectness. Humorous at first glance, one discovers on closer view a darker undercurrent that questions established notions of morality. Pugay thinks of his works as allegorical puzzles for our contemporary times and describes the tableaux as “absurd situational narratives, constructed through the melding of incongruous symbols and ideas, where the mundane and fantastic converge.” Motivated in part by anxiety in a world of uncertainty and absurdity and informed by the culture of video games, his mind-bending scenarios provide a brief moment of comic relief.
Pugay received an MFA in Contemporary Art Practice from Portland State University and studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He is represented by Upfor Contemporary Art Gallery in Portland, Oregon, where he lives and works. Recent exhibitions of his work include his solo show Crowdsurfer at Vox Populi, Philadelphia and FAB Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as group shows Portland2014: A Biennial of Contemporary Art at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, and A Light Spray at the Portland Museum of Modern Art.
The namesake of this distinguished award, Betty Bowen (1918–1977), was a Washington native and enthusiastic supporter of Northwest artists whose friends established the annual award as a celebration of her life and to honor and continue her efforts to provide financial support to the artists of the region. Since 1977, the Seattle Art Museum has hosted the yearly grant application process by which the selection committee chooses one Northwest visual artist—from Washington, Oregon, or Idaho—to receive an unrestricted cash award.
Read more about the Betty Bowen Award and past winners here.