Roxanne Ray doesn’t lack for artistic inspiration. All the accomplished painter has to do is walk outside.

“I like to go outside since East Tennessee is so beautiful,” Ray said. “I take pictures and use them in my paintings.”

Old and abandoned buildings in natural settings are some of her favorite subjects.

A depiction of broken windows at the old Co-op Factory recently captured U.S. Rep Tim Burchett’s eye during the U.S House of Representatives’ Artistic Discovery contest for high school students.

It will join black and white artwork, photos, surrealist pictures and other artwork in a yearlong display.

An art lover himself, Burchett joked that he took so many ceramics classes while earning his degree at the University of Tennessee that he eventually earned a certification to teach art.

“It was really tough this year,” Burchett said. “We had some really exceptional entries.”

Ray’s photorealism in capturing the factory’s broken window panes is what drew his eye.

“If it’s a tree, I like it to look like a tree,” Burchett said. “She’s very talented. I met her and her family and they are really wonderful people. I was just delighted to pick her.”

Art has been a lifelong love for Ray, 18, a recent Maryville High School graduate who grew up playing basketball, soccer and running track.

Her sports days ended in middle school, when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s related arthritis.

“I’d always drawn a lot when I was little, but not seriously,” Ray said “When I was first diagnosed I was in the hospital for a week and it was a blessing in disguise, because I was able to focus on painting. My parents brought me watercolors and the nurses brought me paper.”

She soon switched to acrylics. She also does commissioned portraits and hopes to expand into murals.

“I don’t think of something to paint,” Ray said. “I just kind of find it. Sometimes you see something and it immediately tells a story. I see a person walking and I like to think of where they are going. I also love birds. There is a lot of potential there for detail. “

Ray’s photorealism also allows her to explore color. The co-op painting was part of a series on abandoned industry that uses vivid blues, oranges and earth tones to capture sites in ruins.

Other selections from that series are on display this summer in Nashville after her win at the Knoxville Museum of Art student contest.

“People complain that it hasn’t been torn down yet, but I think it’s beautiful,” Ray said. “I had my senior pictures taken there. I love the contrasting colors. I think rust is really beautiful. Paint chipping always catches my eye. I think old cars and buildings have stories to tell. I think inanimate objects have stories to tell, and I also like watching nature reclaim them.”

Ray attributes her love of detail to her heritage.

Her mother, Shala Ray, is from Iran, a region famous for its rich and complex artistic history.

Iran has been one of the world’s richest sources of sculptors, painters, potters, architects, jewelers and weavers since pre-Biblical times.

After the Islamic conquest in 654 A.D., artists began embellishing mosques, civic buildings and clothing with intricate floral designs that can have symbolic meaning.

Their ornate rugs are prized as much for their complex patterns and sophisticated color scales as they are for their durability.

Iranian artists also excel at producing meticulously detailed miniature paintings of mythological characters and religious themes.

“I think I have some influence from their art,” Ray said. “Islamic art doesn’t depict people or animals. I do, though. I enjoy I like to make really small, intricate stuff. I’m very detail-oriented.”

The literature of her mother’s homeland is another inspiration, she said.

“I think Persians also have a deep appreciation for poetry,” Ray said. “On some holidays, they sit in a circle and read poetry. In America, we idolize singers and actors, they idolize poets.”

An accomplished pianist and saxophone player, Ray will soon begin psychology and environmental studies at Wake Forest University, where she also will join the marching band.

She hopes to incorporate her true passion into her career.

“I’d love to illustrate environmental textbooks,” Ray said. “I love art and wish I could make a career of it.”

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