"Artist Explains Scorned Bin Laden Artwork"
Published Monday, July 22, 2002
By La Rue V. Baber
Staffwriter for the Daily Bulletin.com
Some claim he's a communist. Others insist he's simply practicing freedom of speech. Ask the man himself and he'll say he's just another crazy artist.
Robert Reynolds, of Los Angeles, has received a lot of attention lately for his depiction of Osama bin Laden on cereal boxes, part of his "Love, Hate and Lies" collection on display at the Cal Poly Pomona Downtown Center.
Regarding the protesters led by local store merchant Mike Davis on July 13 at the art district's monthly Second Saturday Art Walk, Reynolds shrugged his shoulders and said, ''I think it's funny.''
Then he explained where the idea came from for his most recent collection -- in which one piece, titled ''Folk Heroes,'' features the names of bin Laden, Paul Bunyan, Casey Jones, Johnny Appleseed and John Wayne in bright neon hues atop a stream of Wheaties boxes; and another features the terrorist's smiling face peering at passers-by from a collage of Life cereal boxes.
After Sept. 11, Reynolds, like most Americans, felt violated and depressed. So, he says, he flew to Pakistan while the war on terrorism raged to see for himself what was happening there -- and to gather ideas for his artwork.
Dressed in Middle Eastern garb, Reynolds said, he visited with war correspondents and military personnel, gleaning all he could. He traded a box of Power bars to drive a Russian tank owned by Northern Alliance tribal members. He also says he ventured into Afghanistan for a brief time, but after learning 10 journalists had just been killed, he rushed back to Pakistan, where he saw firsthand the anti-American rallies that were continually being held.
Reynolds says he discovered on his trip that bin Laden was -- and still is -- adored in the Middle East. Everywhere Reynolds turned, he saw T-shirts and trinkets lauding the known terrorist as a hero.
That's when the idea for his Osama bin Laden art began to form in his head.
''I saw a lot of things most Americans don't see,'' Reynolds said in a recent interview at his Los Angeles loft filled with artwork he's created and some he's collected.
''I wondered how it would be if Osama got into American commercialization. I put it together and the reaction I got was ... crazy. People think that I support him, but that's not my intent. ... I mean, this is supposed to be the Land of the Free. We have freedom of speech.''
Reynolds said ideas for his artwork pour into his mind from the world around him and from his own experiences. ''Thinking of the idea is hardest part,'' said Reynolds, who avoided giving his actual age -- once saying he was 98 and another time, 32. ''Once you have it, the producing part is easy.''
As for preferred medium, Reynolds said he likes anything that makes him ''high'' while he's doing it. Born in White Plains, N.Y., Reynolds moved to California when he was 17. He attended UC Berkley before becoming a pilot for 20 years.
His aviation background influenced many of his latest paintings, including one titled ''Road to Paradise,'' depicting a pilot's view of New York City's skyline complete with the Twin Towers. The word ''virgin'' is scattered atop the painting in bright neon colors.
''Road to Paradise'' was also inspired by Reynolds' research into Islam and the realization that fundamentalist Muslims believe if they are martyred in a holy war, they will be met in paradise by scores of virgins.
Reynolds says his love for flying led him in 2000 to Incredible Adventures, a vacation package on a Russian air base 50 miles east of Moscow, where, in a modified MiG-25, he flew Mach 3.
''I like excitement, I guess,'' he added, shrugging his shoulders and grinning.
Reynolds says his lust for adventure also took him to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa in 1985. He proudly showed pictures of himself and a friend taken moments after their rigorous climb. He also enjoys traveling the world. Italy is a favorite destination.
In fact, Italian influence permeates the assemblages he made of grape vine gondolas covered in resin and reinforced by steel frames, all carrying birds wearing plaster bird masks resembling Venice carnival masks. These are on display in a small room at the I-5 Gallery at the Brewery Art Complex in Los Angeles.
''I'm easily influenced,'' Reynolds joked, as he gently straightened one of the pieces, strung from the ceiling so it appears to be floating in air.
Reynolds, who devoted himself full time to his artwork 10 years ago, is successful. Some of his pieces sell for as much as $20,000. The neons, on display in Pomona, are his most expensive works. His paintings and sculptures range from $500 to $5,000.
Reynolds' work can also be seen for a limited time at 5ifty Bucks gallery in Pomona.
La Rue V. Baber can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 483-9328.