First published: Fall 2017
The art of Evelyn Reyes (b. 1957) combines hieroglyphic-like images with viscerally intense mark-making and sensuous colour. Her drawings possess a feeling of tremendous conviction: the images are rubbed and smeared and burnished onto the paper, until they appear to be printed rather than drawn. In her work, Reyes seems to be telling us something of which she is utterly certain, repeating many of her motifs time and time again, as if to underscore the necessity of their being. Yet, her work is far from rote or automatic as every drawing displays nuances of composition, shape, colour and line. Even among similarly coloured drawings of the same motif, there are shifts of balance and density that create surprisingly diverse effects.
Reyes’ manner of working through repetition with slight shifts in composition and style, recalls the method of artists such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Richard Serra. This is a quintessentially Modernist approach, in which artistic progress is judged not by progressively more accurate representation of external reality, but by iterative transformation from one work of art to the next. The work of art, in this modality becomes a representation of its own truth. It’s not so much art for art’s sake (it is for our sake, after all) as it is a sustained exploration of art in its most reduced and essential form, which asks us again and again to drop our assumptions about aesthetics and habits of seeing in order to confront beauty, naked and unmasked.
Carrots, c. 2006–09, oil pastel on paper, 11 x 17 ins. / 27.9 x 43.2 cm, © Creativity Explored Licensing, LLC
Reyes has focused on a relatively small number of motifs, primarily carrots, garbage cans, and fences (a motif that Evelyn formerly called “cakes”). There are a number of other motifs that she produced infrequently or, perhaps only once or twice: coffee cups, donuts, couches, and an unidentified coffin-like shape. She sometimes will combine motifs, especially in her “fence” works, in which there may be carrots, sandwiches, bells, spools and so on, placed in the upper right and left corners of the compositions. Reyes frequently repeats a motif multiple times in a single drawing.