I'm in the studio of Toronto artist Andrew Reyes. With upcoming solo exhibitions both here at Diaz Contemporary and stateside at Buffalo's Hallwalls, he's an artist to watch. I'm looking for evidence of sculpture. I'd especially love to see Adults, the piece that he showed as part of a group exhibition called The News From Nowhere at Susan Hobbs Gallery last summer. But neither it, nor anything else particularly three dimensional, is apparent. Reyes studio does contain a remarkable cache of inkjet papers and inks forming beautifully packaged rows and tidy stacks. "Where's Adults?" I ask. "Oh that's at my other studio.", he responds. Behind me, an arrangement of photographs tacked to the wall has the look of some art that is expecting a studio visitor. But I don't get much more than a glance at this before Reyes invites me to open a black archival box full of digital prints, Posters, his ongoing photographic series begun seven years ago and most recently exhibited in the street level display windows at Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery.
I am soon lost in the tactility of handling and contemplating each poster. These images do not form a cohesive taxonomy but rather something more akin to remote channel surfing. In this array, each successive image is connected by its disassociation from the last. A poster detailing a bar bejeweled with shapely, distorted drinks is followed by one that looks like an advert in a high end art publication. It pictures a young boy approaching a duffel bag and a white panama hat perched on a stick that has been somehow wedged into a Precambrian slab. Below this vignette, gold letters blaze across graphic red: Andrew Reyes - Elderly Adult Sculptures For Children - Models and Proposals - Black Rock Site - 14 09 1999. Up next? A couple of perfectly ripe red cherries offered for inspection by the artist's very own hand. Meanwhile, his own visage in turn casts a wounded glance from a smaller image (inset above) in which he, himself is strapped into the seatbelt of a car. And so it goes. Each successive image is almost forgotten or erased by the prospect of the next.
Reyes obviously likes to look at things and his is a terrifically liquid economy of images that have been posterised to dispose of each other in a way that reflects the insatiable appetite of an image gobbling culture. Many of his posters feature text that blithely mimics advertising copy and corporate logo design superimposed over what seem to be more often abjectly personal subjects. Fast and dirty, this is old school collage dressed up in a meticulously tailored digital suit and yet the posters seem to advertise a far more private, personal consciousness. Things not being quite what they seem is a tendency that has shown up before in works like Reyes' All That Is, in which he dressed James Carl's humble Kensington Market Balcony with an inspirational prayer written by new age guru, Marianne Williamson - words often attributed to Nelson Mandela. The Poster series, likewise is full of subtle plays on who said what. Reyes own name appears in some of the posters, simultaneously depicting and branding visual experience his own.
The thing is, photography is inherently appropriative. We don't give pictures - we take them. It is apparent, as I lift a polkadot studded poster à la John Baldessari off of another depicting a new subdivision barely clad in pink insulation and nodding every bit to the work of Roy Arden, that this artist's visual experience includes a good look at other people's art. These probing ironic odes to the fruits of the artworld(s) are a bit jarring in the scheme of things. But Reyes is matter of fact, "Those are my John Baldessari polkadots." And the image passes with no further aplomb into the shuffling sequence. Reyes makes much of a desire to escape what he calls the orthodoxies of conventional photography. And it strikes me that he's started his own convention with clandestine passes for certain special guests. He says as much in our discussion which is as halting as the lifting up and restoration to the pile of each his posters.
When asked about his influences, books about Gilbert and George and Dieter Roth fly down from the bookshelves as if to illustrate their presence in the discussion. The books are well thumbed and their contents obviously well digested. Such an analogy is not to be taken lightly. Reyes patient consideration of every little thing and completely unrushed exhibition schedule is almost antidotal to the racing visual traffic of which he seems so acutely aware. Nothing comes out of this studio without a significant period of gestation - till it has been thoroughly considered - till he owns it. The artist statement he will forward me later in the week is most succinct about this: "With each poster I .... engage in a genre and twist it into my very own idiom. " And he does to maximum effect. I can't wait to see it all go up in a gallery. Reyes' poster project is sort of like a mirrored, retinal turbine, carving a secret grid in the bottom of a crystal pool, the source of a bottomless and truly eclectic visual frisson.
All images are courtesy of the artist and the author.