June 10 – July 1, 2021
14 Wooster Street
New York—It is impossible to drive anywhere in this town without having seen one of Lance De Los Reyes’ (a.k.a. RAMBO) giant, cryptic messages scrawled on one of the many vacant billboards dotting the city’s skyline or, for that matter, on any wall or truck throughout the five boroughs. Much the way Basquiat and Al Diaz sprayed their epithet SAMO all over Manhattan’s downtown in the late 70’s, often accompanied by a quirky phrase such as “An Alternative to Mass-Produced Individuality.” Lance De Los Reyes, too, is everywhere offering his dose of the unexpected and idiosyncratic. Puzzling messages, such as Angels Are Screams Echos New Worlds or Cross Thoses(Sic) Bridges / Make A Dream / This Mystery Is True, have—over the years—been seen by millions of New Yorkers on their way to and from work each day, enigmas to ponder while sitting in traffic. And if Andy Warhol’s protégé, the influential writer, cultural critic, artist, actor and poet, Rene Ricard, were alive today, he’d no doubt be asking Where is Rambo? much the way he asked Where is Taki? in his noteworthy 1981 essay for Artforum magazine, “The Radiant Child,” which recognized the talents of that generation’s art stars, particularly Basquiat, Haring, and Rifka. Because, after having seen Rambo’s street art, the avant-garde artist in Rene would be fascinated to know if there was a studio artist behind the mysterious street poet as well. Luckily, there most certainly is. And it would be an injustice to De Los Reyes and his work not to reveal some of his prior life before delving into Past is Present is Future. Afterall, the title of the show begs thorough consideration.
To know Lance De Los Reyes personally is to know that his life and creative realms have—in the past—existed in the space between paradise and nothingness. Between polar extremes: as witnessed via the worm’s-eye view—when the magical light of art, life, and hope are dimmed from addiction—and also as witnessed from a bird’s—when the art muse calls on Lance to scale an outdoor billboard and soar one hundred-and-fifty feet atop a four-story building with nothing but an unfettered vision, a unique, Greco-Romanesque font to call his own, and some cheap, hardware store-bought paint as his only safety net. Such perspectives and experiences have provided the artist with a deeper grasp of the self, which is important when seeking knowledge, guidance, and answers in a world that is messy, complicated, and, at times, spinning out of control. Such scenarios have compelled Lance to reach further into the subconscious and spirit worlds for resolve, new places for Mr. De Los Reyes to draw meaningful and personal material for his paintings—with or without an assist from ayahuasca and or shamans. His is an art that’s been formed when the water has receded and after the fires have all been extinguished and when they’re concurrently flooding the city center and burning down every bridge in town. He has pushed the extremes to their extremities, he has danced along the periphery of life and death for so long that we who know him praise the good lord for his survival and sobriety (over four years strong) because, as this exhibition showcases, he has much to contribute to and script for art-history’s storied narrative.
Because of his past, healing becomes a key theme in his current body of work—as it was for Peter Tosh. In Reggae Wisdom: Proverbs in Jamaican Music, legendary Swami, Anand Prahlad, believed that Tosh, in his albums Bush Doctor and Mystic Man, was seeking to portray himself as both a healer and a prophet. It is difficult not to make a similar assessment here with Mr. De Los Reyes. A number of the works in the show with the same title, Guardian Council, hint at this notion. Through errors and choices of his own making, Lance has learned the meaning (and action) of temperance and forgiveness whilst becoming fully aware, too, of the sacred in all things. Unfortunately, most only recognize the beauty of life’s journey when it’s too late. Luckily for Lance, he’s lived enough to share this glory. And so, each painting becomes an homage to life’s sacredness and mystery. His goal is to recognize the profundity of living truth having known hell (so to speak) and to remind others, too, that while we prevail on this short journey it might be a good idea once in a while to give thanks to the powerful forces at work; to humble oneself in gratitude to our forebears who brought our DNA into existence and to whatever unknown spirit imbued the light in our being that makes us tick.
These are the artist’s most vibrant paintings to date, beautifully delineated entanglements of symbols and ensigns, inherited and ancient, and made entirely new. In Guardian Council VII, pictographs of spiritual energies, protectors even (or guardian angels), abound, anchored like buoys to signal either a safe passage or navigational (life) hazard. In the top right corner, a heart invokes a beating pulse which signals throughout the piece. These paintings are mappings of sorts, age-old streams of consciousness merging our primitive, primordial past with the present state of affairs in dire need of guidance, of love. As such, Lance is grounded in family and the continuity of lifeblood. Past is present through the sanguine which constitutes life, thematics which proffer genuine meaning and provide an immediate, energetic momentum to his paintings. An example of this comingling of subject matter, family, and purpose is, Hieroglyphs That Protect Oil From Equaling Blood III, which is a large painting examining the stewardship of the natural environment, and features (apropos of motif) some coloring-in by his young son, Roman, a point of pride for the artist.
Lance refers to his art-making as his “gifted curse.” To be sure, making art on a daily basis is, no doubt, fortunate. The curse part of the equation, however, becomes clear because Lance believes wholeheartedly in the power of art and its ability to change lives for the better—as it has for him—which is no small responsibility. Delving deeper, he’s following in the footsteps of giants and wishes only to be as genuine in his art practice as they’ve been with theirs. For this, he is deeply indebted to his predecessors (De Kooning, for one) and mentors like Donald Baechler and the art of Julian Schnabel. To stand in the large space at Ross-Sutton Gallery surrounded by Lance De Los Reyes’ new paintings is to witness an artist truly evolving his pictorial vocabulary and fully believing in his art’s higher power—the ability to heal. Being surrounded by it is to experience a delightful dance between right and wrong, masculine and feminine, East and West, magic and realism—all fully wrought from humanity’s (and Reyes’) fragility and prowess. Gabriel García Márquez would be proud. So would Rene Ricard, who’d be delighted, too, by De Los Reyes’ radiant art-spirit-force and awareness of the supernatural in correlation to man’s dramatic contradictions and faults—most certainly of his paintings that blend (via bold color and drawing) a sublime harmony of opposite yet comforting forces. These are paintings conveying a positive energy that beckon the viewer to listen closer to their protector—that inner voice, perhaps—and trust it. Listen carefully in order to ascertain that everything will be OK—today and tomorrow. As it has for Mr. De Los Reyes. He may refer to his art-making as a gifted curse, but his art offering is most certainly a gifted blessing, while his presence tells of a bright future. —Gregory de la Haba