Julio Reyes, a faculty member for the upcoming Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE), describes the subjects of his work as “tender souls grappling with the pressures of modern life, living out their meaning and seeking their own way through this world.” In this exclusive interview, Reyes takes us behind the scenes into his paintings and his techniques.
Cherie Dawn Haas: Please tell us about your painting titled “Firestarter.”
Julio Reyes: I remember in my early teens a wildfire broke out in the hills northeast of Los Angeles. A friend and I snuck past fire crews and cop cars to get a closer look. I guess you could say it was one of those “coming of age” moments in our young lives. Our hearts raced as we ascended the hillside in order to reach the flames. There was a great sense of danger, adventure, and anticipation about it — we reached the top to see miles of black scorched earth, pulsing with glowing embers that oddly resembled the city lights we could see below in the distance. It was like something out of the Dante’s Divine Comedy — the two of us, quietly watching the steady spread of the flames, and their inevitable destruction.
This motif followed me for years, and only recently did I feel ready enough to paint it. The young man who stood with me is as much at the heart of this painting as anything else. He was a troubled guy, who was capable of great humor and warmth, but also great sorrow, deep anger, and sometimes cruelty. In those days we shared everything, but I’ll never forget how perplexed I was by the look of intensity on his face. It was a mixture of awe, cool calm, and wild mischief — part of me felt that he took pleasure in the whole thing, and I’ve never forgotten that.
CDH: What’s an artistic challenge you face, and how do you overcome it?
JR: I am partially color blind. Color blindness takes many forms and it can be pretty severe for some. I’m only partially color blind and my problem is primarily with distinguishing reds, greens, purples, and sometimes blues. In the past it has been difficult for me to distinguish between warms and cools, and I’ve been told that gives my work a distinct palette. Early on I had to learn careful color mixing based on what my specific weaknesses were … this took practice and a lot of trial and error … I learned the hard way to find color mixtures that worked for me. I recently purchased a pair of En Chroma corrective glasses in the hope that they may help me to see colors I have never seen before. Funny thing is, I am so used to painting without them, that I hardly ever use them!
CDH: Please tell our readers a little about what you are doing at FACE.
JR: At FACE, my wife Candice Bohannon and I will be doing a main stage demonstration together. We will also take part in a panel discussion with other artists. On stage, we will be painting from a live model using copper panels and sharing our experience using this interesting substrate. We are often asked about our works on copper and hope to share our knowledge with the audience in attendance. We hope they can walk away with the knowledge to start working with copper in their own studios, and so as to make using copper accessible to anyone who wants to try it.
CDH: What’s a common question you hear about painting in general, or about your style or media?
JR: I experiment often with different media and painting surfaces, so I’m always asked about my materials and techniques when incorporating new painting technologies into my figurative work. I try my best to answer these questions by sharing with people my own experiences in the studio and by pointing them to the reliable resources I trust. I hope my experience with these alternative materials inspires new possibilities and new options for artists who are looking for something a bit different but don’t want to work with fugitive materials.
CDH: What draws you to the figure in comparison to other subjects?
JR: That’s a great question, and one that I’ve always found difficult to fully express without sounding trite. I love every form of art, but figurative work has always impacted me most profoundly. I can say it no better than one of my favorite authors:
“The mind’s eye can nowhere find anything more dazzling nor more dark than in a man; it can fix itself upon nothing which is more awful, more complex, more mysterious, or more infinite. There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.” — Victor Hugo
For more information about the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (November 2018, Miami, Florida) and to register today, please visit figurativeartconvention.com.