You might need a microscope and a history book to appreciate every detail of former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray's official portrait
As mayor, Jim Gray was fond of “crowding the winner’s circle,” and his portrait stays true to his favored catchphrase. Viewed from a distance it resembles a colorful modern take on portraits of old — with Gray seated, a bookshelf to his right, a window in the backdrop, and natural light sending shadows onto the floor.
But as the creator, UK Photography Professor James Robert Southard, notes, if you take a second and look closer, what you find is a collage with a dizzying array of references to the people, places, and projects that shaped Gray’s time in office.
"The wallpaper in the background is actually referencing all the details of Kentucky history, all the symbols, the spines on the books, the names of the books have been changed to the names of people who have helped him. Even the materials, the fabric hanging on the nightstand next to him is a reference to the Kentucky tree," he explains.
Gray jokes that the unconventional idea came after he was told both he and his canine companion couldn’t sit still enough for a classic oil painting.
"I had trouble getting my dog, May Lake, to sit long enough, but she's in there though," he laughs. "She's right there."
The former mayor, who served from 2011 to 2019 and helped usher in ambitious projects like the 21c Museum Hotel, the Town Branch trail, and the reimagining of Rupp Arena and the Convention Center, says he wanted the image to reflect the fact that mayors come and go, but it’s the people they work with and serve, and their legacy, that lives on.
"Any mayor is here just for really a moment, you know. In the history of Lexington, 250 years, I was there for a moment in time for eight years in that role, and you always hope and have aspirations that you can make a difference and get things done," he says.
The portrait will soon hang in the city council chambers, alongside Gray's predecessors going back to the beginning of the merged county-state government.