Tony de los Reyes 09.25.06
AUTHOR: MICOL HEBRON 09.09.06-10.14.06 Carl Berg Gallery, Los Angeles
“Or the Whale,” the title of Tony de Los Reyes’s current exhibition, is Melville’s alternate title for Moby Dick. The poignancy of de los Reyes’s works lies similarly in their or factor, the alternate information that at first goes unnoticed; they offer ineffable subjects that often loom just beyond our field of vision but harbor a palpable immensity. The show has three luminous and subtly sparkling white paintings of waves that, in their abstractness, are analogous to the evasive whale in Melville’s novel. Several smaller Rorschach-like bister paintings function like photographic emulsion and reveal latent and looming images of large ships listing in blood-red seas. In graceful contrast to sometimes overwrought Abstract Expressionism, de los Reyes navigates his territory with subtlety and poignancy. He appropriates the techniques and subjects of elder masters, which offer new narratives and metaphors when presented in contemporary contexts.
It is perhaps coincidental that the palette of his last two LA exhibitions is a patriotic red, white, and blue, but the work presents a timely parallel to that which we do not see acknowledged in contemporary American media. There have been a lot of “big ship”–themed artworks of late, though de los Reyes traverses nostalgia and romanticism to render his vessels dangerously relevant as metaphors for our continued colonization of an unknowable world. With references to grand quests, unrequited vengeance, and misplaced aggression, de los Reyes’s painted ships and whaling-spear sculptures adorn the gallery with cautionary symbolism, unsettling viewers’ self-certainty. He succeeds in rendering the aesthetic political and, like a dexterous captain, deftly wrangles the ropes of technique, concept, history, and hubris.