Ad Man: Joseph Grey II

December 13 through March 10, 2019

L. C. and Margaret Walker Gallery B

Joseph E. Grey II is an artist, designer, art director, and writer. Now retired, he achieved an award winning career working with such notable clients as RCA, Elizabeth Arden, Noxzema, Esso (Exxon), General Motors, and Cover Girl. Beginning as a freelance illustrator and designer in the 1950s, he became one of the earliest, if not the first, African Americans to work professionally in the advertising business in New York City. Throughout his illustration and ad career he also pursued a body of independent works, first as an abstract artist, then later working representationally to depict various areas of interest including music, religion, family, Native American culture, and his time in Jamaica.

From musician to abstract painter to illustrator and graphic designer, this exhibition explores the course of Grey’s art through his earliest abstract paintings to his latest watercolors. The show also features numerous examples of his work as a professional illustrator and creative director, highlighting his pioneering presence in the New York advertising world.

Joseph Grey II was born in 1927, and grew up in Plain City, Ohio, a community of about 1,500 people and only four Black families. He enjoyed art as a child, especially drawing and map-making, but his biggest passion was for Jazz. When he graduated third in his class in 1944, he was an avid trumpet player and aspiring composer, so enrolled at Ohio State University to study music. During his finals, he flubbed his performance due to severe stage fright, forcing him to re-examine his pursuit of music. He chose art, and enrolled in the commercial art department at the Columbus College of Art and Design (then the Columbus Art School) in 1948.

After graduation, Grey worked briefly for an ad agency in Columbus, but tales of New York City proved irresistible, and he found work designing forms and pamphlets for the New York Housing Authority. Grey was able to gradually pick up freelance work, including at RCA Records, but as an African American, full-time employment in the ad business continued to elude him. His talent and drive soon broke barriers, and he moved from freelance to full-time work with some of the top firms in the city, including Hockaday and McCann Erickson.

By the close of his career, Joseph Grey II was an award winning artist, writer, and advertising director, a trail blazing professional whose work helped to break down racial barriers in one of the most influential cities in the world.

Gallery Talk with Artist Joseph Grey
Thursday, February 21
6:00 pm
Ad Man artist Joseph Grey will talk about his work in the exhibition gallery. Light refreshments. Cash bar. Free and open to the public.