An Artist’s Contemplative Paintings Channel His Mexican Heritage and Childhood in Los Angeles

Realist painter Julio Reyes creates wistful portraits of figures in isolation, painting in pursuit of tenderness and beauty, and as a response to his heritage and upbringing in Los Angeles as the grandchild of Mexican immigrants. Growing up, he was strongly influenced by stories of personal hardship and triumph among those with whom he was acquainted: “As a child, my imagination was fueled by family stories of tremendous adversity, sorrow, perseverance, and the incredible deeds of those who journeyed far to become American citizens. I have always been moved by the human capacity to love, dream, and persevere, with great courage and sincerity, in spite of a vast and unsympathetic Nature.”

Currently on view at Arcadia Contemporary in New York, “Vessels,” a solo exhibition of Reyes’ recent works, focuses on portraits of women alone in moments of contemplation. Reyes is a master of his chosen media, often beginning with an underdrawing in charcoal or black gesso, and then building up layers in oil or tempera washes, quick marks, and color blocks that appear photorealistic from afar, but upon a closer look, become more abstract and gestural. 

Reyes views his subjects with a palpable empathy that is transmitted through a gentleness of hand, palette, and form. The show’s title refers to the inner worlds of the characters Reyes depicts. As is characteristic of his work, most of the subjects depicted are female (often modeled after his wife Candice Bohannon, also a realist painter), and shown in organic settings. In “Vessels,” we often see an emphasis on his subjects’ strength amid chaos; stoic figures steal a quiet moment outside a party or are contrasted against symbols of natural brutality—raging bonfires, or frozen ponds. These characters push against an unknown opposing force, the nature of which is left up to the viewer to decide.

—K. Sundberg

Vessels” is on view at Arcadia Contemporary, New York, Nov. 13–30, 2014.

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