Expressions of Malaysia: Artist Rachel Gray

Image credit: Rachel Gray
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All images courtesy of Rachel Gray.

It’s not often you meet an artist that focuses their career on two distinct art forms: digital and abstract oil, especially since they are so different. For 30-year-old British artist Rachel Gray, it’s always been natural for her to express herself in both mediums.

Rachel has been living in Malaysia with her partner for over four years, and has found herself completely inspired and dazzled by the rich diversity of the wildlife and landscapes here. For the past two years, she has been painting for her latest series, ‘Instinct and Experiences’, which was exhibited at the National Visual Arts Gallery last month. Rachel recently made history as the first-ever British female artist to hold a solo exhibition there, a milestone in her career that she is most honoured and proud about. “I simply couldn’t believe it when I found out, and I am sincerely flattered!”, the animated and lively artist told me over coffee.

At the launch of the exhibition, David Thomas, Deputy British High Commissioner said: “It’s a real achievement for Rachel Gray to be the first British female solo artist to exhibit in Malaysia’s National Visual Arts Gallery, particularly in this special year as the gallery marks its 60th anniversary. The historic Malaysian-British relationship is one of modern partnership and mutual respect. Exhibitions like these demonstrate how we can enrich both of our cultures in the spirit of collaboration. I hope that the artistic exchange embodied in today’s exhibition is something that will continue to flourish in both Malaysia and the UK.”

It was clear from early on in our conversation that Rachel is a true animal lover, and has been ever since she was a little girl, growing up in Hexham, United Kingdom. “I’ve always had pets around me and I’ve been a professional pet and wildlife portrait artist for over 10 years. I’ve been painting ever since I could remember, when I was old enough to hold a pencil.

With this exhibition, I’ve managed to merge my two passions – animals and painting.” Her exhibition covers abstract oil paintings that depict her experiences in Malaysia, while the digital paintings are hyper-realistic portraits of wildlife. She travelled to Sandakan in Borneo as well as Taman Negara in Pahang which served as the venue for her inspiration in this latest series. Rachel explained the complexities and challenges of painting animals, especially wild ones that you can only see at a zoo or in a natural environment.


“I don’t just paint from a photograph or picture from the internet, especially wildlife, because you can’t get a sense
of the energy, emotions, and the soul of an animal through a picture. My technique is that I observe them in their
natural habitat or the zoo, I sit there for as long as I can get a good look of the animal, and aim to capture their very souls and feelings. Their instincts and experiences, the very title of my exhibition, are reflected in the paintings.”

Being a digital artist, Rachel has found there is often a misconception about the kind of art she does. “Many people think that digital art is simply Photoshop. They think that my realistic work is actually a photograph being edited with filters. The technique is actually physically drawing with a stylus on a digital drawing tablet. Simply put, digital art uses traditional painting techniques like oil or watercolour, applied with digital tools instead of a canvas, paintbrush, and paints.”

Rachel said laughingly that she’s a stereotypical artist when it comes to her work. “I can go hours painting and not even realise that I haven’t eaten that day. I completely get into the zone and I don’t know what time or day it is. When I’m focused on a series, I’ll stay up all night painting, as it can take days to finish a single artwork.” She is also a qualified Illustrator and has worked with several clients around the world on a number of different projects, and as a professional pet and wildlife artist, has painted a number of pedigree cats, show ponies, race horses, and show dogs. Her portraits are popular for their use of vibrant colours and their ability to capture the animal’s personality.

Rachel simply loves Malaysia and has no plans to leave any time soon. “I love it here, the people and food are wonderful, and it’s just so beautiful. I am fascinated by the different festivals and cultures as well. I want to explore much more of this gorgeous country and the surrounding region. I am currently working on my next series, which will include paintings of proboscis monkeys and snow leopards,” she said.

To view more of Rachel Gray’s artworks, please visit or her Instagram page at rachelgray.artist.

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