Drawings by Lance de los Reyes: Classic, modernist abstraction from a former graffiti tagger

From the art critic Edward M. Gómez's website, March 16th, 2016:  www.edwardmgomez.com

Left to right: Lance de los Reyes at work, and Builder 1, Builder 6 and Builder 7; all works dated 2016 and graphite on paper; each sheet measures 24" x 18". Photo of the artist at work by Mordechai Rubinstein, courtesy of the artists; photos of artworks courtesy of Shrine.

Left to right: Lance de los Reyes at work, and Builder 1, Builder 6 and Builder 7; all works dated 2016 and graphite on paper; each sheet measures 24" x 18". Photo of the artist at work by Mordechai Rubinstein, courtesy of the artists; photos of artworks courtesy of Shrine.

NEW YORK: Since it opened in mid-January, I've been following with interest the programming of Shrine (www.shrine.nyc), a new gallery at the southern end of Manhattan's Lower East Side district, near the edge of Chinatown. It's located on Henry Street, where several other galleries also have popped up. In recent years, The LES has become a major gallery zone; with its many restaurants, boutiques and ever-stronger hipster vibe, this area is quickly displacing Chelsea as the place for contemporary-art dealers to set up shop.

Through April 17th, Shrine is showing Builder 33, a selection of drawings in graphite on paper and one very large oil-on-canvas painting by the Brooklyn-based artist Lance de los Reyes. A 39-year-old, former graffiti artist who grew up in southern California (where, he told me, he practiced his renegade métier on the sides of freight cars in a local railway depot), de los Reyes studied at the San Francisco Art Institute before moving to New York several years ago. Inquisitive, down to earth and unabashedly passionate about art and art-making, de los Reyes quickly made friends among other young artists and found himself working as an assistant to the artist Donald Baechler.

"For me, making art is something I have to do," de los Reyes told me when I stopped by Shrine to see his exhibition. "It's about expressing certain truths you feel or recognize in the world, and it's about making visible that creative power you feel – I feel almost feel somewhat defiant about it."

I asked him: "You mean, you feel defiant in the face of that intuitive creative urge, as though you have to steer it in the direction you want to go instead of the direction in which it might be leading you?"

Left to right: Lance de los Reyes, Builder 2, Builder 10 and Builder 3; all works dated 2016 and graphite on paper; each sheet measures 24" x 18". Photos of artworks courtesy of Shrine.

Left to right: Lance de los ReyesBuilder 2Builder 10 and Builder 3; all works dated 2016 and graphite on paper; each sheet measures 24" x 18". Photos of artworks courtesy of Shrine.

"No," the artist replied. "What I mean is, I feel deeply moved and energized by that creative impulse, almost like I have to defend it. Making art expresses and defends that creative energy at the same time."

I found de los Reyes's comments about the nature of what he does and his motivation for making his paintings and drawings to be one of the freshest and most heartfelt remarks on the subject I had heard from any artist in quite a long time. His abstract images share strong affinities with those of modern artists of past decades whose works brought a sense of sculptural  form into the confines of two-dimensional drawing, especially during that period when many a modernist was looking for ways out of the free-form formlessness of paint-flinging or gestural abstract expressionism.

As seen at Shrine, the abstract imagery of de los Reyes’s drawings on 18-by-24-inch sheets of paper feels at once intimate and monumental, spare and full. Given the side of a freight car to fool around on today, I wonder what he might conjure up on such a vast, imposing surface.

Lance de los Reyes’s Builder 33 exhibition remains on view at Shrine, 191 Henry Street, New York NY 10002, through April 17, 2016.

Posted by Edward M. Gómez.

 

© 2016 Edward M. Gómez; all rights reserved.