When Jennifer Gray smiles, her eyes twinkle and it looks like she knows something; within her lies the answer to a simple yet abstract concept: happiness.

Even her artwork seems to contain a mysterious answer. Dark, abstract and partially figurative, her work oozes wholeness and an understanding that, while we’re all missing something, wholeness can be obtained. “I leave bits out of my figures because my feeling is that people are not all there. I don’t give them faces because I want them to relay a feeling and not be looked at as a person,” she explained. “My work is dark but I try to give each shape sensual grace. I guess I am trying to say there is beauty in all forms.”

Looking at her work is like looking directly into a feeling rather than a subject. She uses acrylic paint on canvas or wood and pastels on butcher paper. The final step is usually an epoxy or varnish to bring out the hidden brightness. She also creates free-standing sculptures: curvy women with missing parts made of wood, wire and paper made solid by thick coats of hardening mediums.

Gray grew up in California. An awkward kid who did not fit in, art was her solace. Worried about how she would support herself through college, Gray attended beauty school while still in high school. In her senior year, she dropped out of beauty school to participate in track, and then it was on to college to study accounting, which she hated. Instead, she focused on art classes, where she learned to handle an array of mediums.

She dropped out of college and headed back to beauty school. “My thought was that hair could pay for paint,” she said, “Art always gave me comfort but hair pulled me out of my shell.”

 Gray got lucky; she did a two-year apprenticeship at a salon that was opened by two original members of Vidal Sassoon’s artistic team from London and for five years it was nothing but hair. “My art background really helped in my hair career. I am a very capable hair colorist because of my artistic background. The law of color is true on canvas and on hair. Knowing tone values, texture and balance are all key in creating beautiful hair color and styles.”

Gray married a man in the Air Force and moved to the Spokane area after he was stationed at Fairchild. Gray worked at a downtown salon for 10 years as she continued to create art.

Fast-forward to now: She is divorced and working in her own shop called Josefine’s Salon Concepts at 154 S. Madison St. Josefine was her great-grandmother’s name and it is a place where Gray can fully immerse herself in the creative spirit; artwork is scattered around as she paints and sculpts hair.

In warm months, she participates in First Friday events, offering music in the courtyard and art (hers and that of others) in the salon. Though missing parts as we all are, she is happy and somehow whole. “I feel pretty lucky to be to have my two loves together.”