Installation view of “Naomi Reis: Paradise Constructed” at Mixed Greens, New York. Courtesy Mixed Greens and the artist. Photo by Etienne Frossard
When you close your eyes and imagine paradise, what do you see? For Brooklyn-based artist Naomi Reis, the answer is a lush garden. But unlike many artists who preceded her, the natural paradise Reis envisions is not the exotic or idyllic forest waiting to be discovered. Rather, hers consists of vegetation that no longer exists because of urbanization and climate change and must be reconstructed by humans.
As the world changes, Reis argues that so too does a society’s definition of paradise. In “Paradise Constructed,” her series of verdant mixed-media collages and paintings, currently on view at Mixed Greens in Chelsea, the artist tackles landscape painting anew, re-creating dense tropical gardens with a paint-by-numbers feel by assembling together pieces of cutout paper, mylar, and her own custom-printed fabric. These collages are not inspired by nature in the wild, but rather based on photographs of gardens that serve as the only sliver of nature in overpopulated cities.
Reis’s creations are nearly as dense and textured as the underbrush itself. Her flora-filled scenes are painstakingly built: small colored swatches are carefully layered over larger ones, interspersed with dabs of paint. From afar, the works clearly invoke the dense jungle, though closer inspection nudges the works toward abstraction and hints at their intricate construction. In the intermediate space where both figuration and abstraction are possible, her works resemble topographical maps, the contours of her collages echoing changes in elevation.
While the works often remain neatly contained in their frames like planter boxes, in some works, like Tropical Construction #4 (2015), a frond reaches out of the picture plane, disrupting the illusionism of the image and helping Reis’s paradisiacal vision feel all the more real. With its patches of leaves and flowers, Rainforest (Twilight) (2015), painted directly on the wall of the gallery, recalls Andy Warhol’s “Do It Yourself” pictures and his Pop Art takes on camouflage. Like those highly fabricated representations of nature, Reis’s arcadian vegetation is clearly a human construction.
“Paradise Constructed” is on view at Mixed Greens, New York, Sep. 10–Oct. 10, 2015.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory