Local artist Aja Reyes opens her first solo show, “A Colorful Human Reaction,” this weekend at the Lees-Reyes Art Gallery with works as lush in color and texture as they are in depth and meaning.
Reyes paints in a wide range of styles, deftly moving from postmodern clean lines and bold colors intended to recall the aerial perspective of forests and canals to softer expressionist applications that explore the experience of poverty and homelessness.
With a portion of the show touching on various elements of CHamoru and Micronesian identity, as well as environmental conservation, there seems to be no corner of the human experience that Reyes won’t visit, though he prefers his art invites people to ask questions. and talk. instead of imposing discomfort on them.
“It can be a conversation starter on a topic. For example, watershed management, Red Hill, groundwater contamination in the City and County of Honolulu, gun rights, shootings, cancer, blackouts, good and bad, generational transmission of knowledge. … So all those themes are there, but it’s a much more … nice presentation. If someone is not ready, we can keep it at a lighter level, and then maybe go deeper,” Reyes said.
Where Reyes sees a “nice presentation,” most will see fine art. His work is undeniably skillful when it comes to technique and his choice to address significant issues with so many nuances and inductions is masterful.
Surprisingly, Reyes has only taken one formal art class, but has been drawing the natural world since childhood. Reyes remembers growing up very inspired by time on the water and hiking around Guam, which led her to pursue a career in marine biology, as well as benefiting from the presence of her artist aunt and gallery owner, Dawn Lees. -Kings.
Reyes recalls that her aunt shared her materials and knowledge with her during her childhood, including old video cassettes about art history and famous artists.
“Growing up in Guam, you didn’t have access to beautiful paintings. In the movies you saw things like the galleries, people go into the galleries and it’s very fancy, but it was also expensive.
I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll never be able to afford it.’ I should try creating it. And that helped open up the possibility of having access to something that I thought was not accessible,” Reyes said.
Now, despite the lack of formal training, she has cubist and dadaist masters such as Paul Gauguin, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamps as her main influences and is looking for women artists from the same movements, such as Barbara Hepworth or the more contemporary Cecily . Brown.
“There are so many; I’ve just scratched the surface of learning all of their names. You look at art and you’d never know their name, but their work is familiar because they started with the famous male artists, but they just didn’t come to the fore with them at the time.” Reyes said.
Some of Reyes’ most powerful pieces are paintings made from turn-of-the-century photographs, including those of his great-grandparents, inspired by an article published by the Pacific Daily News in the 1980s about the different family branches in Guam.
“That really helped me understand my roots and I wanted to do portraits like you see in Europe or other Western countries where they’re really held in high regard, we don’t really have that here,” Reyes said.
That train of thought led her to other photographs, including a 1996 photo by Bruce Campbell of a Yapesa woman, Eulelie Ranganbay, preparing for a menstrual chant.
“I was impressed by her pose, her posture, and again, the women are such a strong figure. But I was also thinking as much as I don’t see portraits of CHamoru families and prominent people, as would be common in Europe, I don’t see much for other Micronesian islands.
“So I really wanted to do a portrait that would bring out the dignity and grace and majesty, really, of those people,” Reyes said.
That approach, which celebrates the dignity, grace, and majesty of the people, the land, and the cultures that surround it, is pervasive throughout Reyes’ work, and the invitation to look deeply into his subtle imagery is met with ample reward. , as in his painting. “Y Achun Palao’an”, or “Rock Woman”.
The first glance reveals a greyscale, geometric and feminine figure. A second look may uncover the mestizo style of her Spanish-era hair and clothing, but a longer look may find another layer, that her shape is also that of a café con leche.
Reyes joins the great CHamoru tradition of telling stories in the way he paints; it may not be an oral narration, but it will certainly encourage the exchange of stories and thoughts among the viewers. He said it best in his description of two great companion pieces, “Until They Disappear” or “The Reduction.”
“It’s not just the importance of the taotaomo’na tree, but also the importance of mangrove roots in coastal stabilization. I remember that people received these drawings of the person wrapped by the taotaomo’na tree, as if you saw the head of him or something, this is my version, “said Reyes.
“So this is called ‘Until They’re Gone,’ and it’s about having the conversation before people leave. Speaking of history before we lose that information and lose that connection.”