After graduating from the Bennett School for Girls in 1933, Ray moved to New York City. She became an enthusiastic explorer of the city’s culture, viewing sketches such as Picasso’s Guernica one night and attending Broadway plays the next.
Ray spent her days studying painting with renowned abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann. She became friends with a number of other well-known artists who were also Hofmann’s students at that time, such as Lee Krasner and Mercedes Matter. By 1937, as a founding member of American Abstract Artists, she exhibited her paintings in the organization’s first group show.
A few years into Ray’s partnership with Charles, she began making fewer paintings—at least in the traditional sense. Charles commented on this during one of his 1952 presentations, saying:
My wife is a painter, and a very good one. . .and we’ve been working together for, oh, twelve years now, I guess. . . let me say, her friends of the American Association of Abstract Artists take a, sort of, very dim view of the fact that Ray hasn’t exhibited any paintings or, actually, hasn’t done a lot of any painting lately, in the sense that you can paint something and put it into a frame.
Now, actually, I think that she has been consistently functioning as a painter, and has functioned as a painter on and above the call of duty, because, actually, her hand and everything that makes it so is a part of everything we do, just as much of architecture as anything else. . .
And if you’re thinking of what some color looks like on a building, or what some spot of color in relation to something else. . .this is not it. [She] is really functioning as a painter, sort of, you know, extra and beyond perception.
Ray clearly agreed with what Charles said. In 1982, when a young woman asked her, “Mrs. Eames, how did it feel to give up painting?” Ray succinctly replied, “I never gave up painting; I just changed my palette.”