"Love Hates and Lies", July 2002
Cal Poly Downtown Center in Pomona, Ca
Artweek September 2002
Robert Reynolds at Cal Poly Downtown Center in Pomona, CA
Love Hates and Lies – July 2002
Perhaps the recent work of Robert Reynolds at Cal Poly Downtown Center in Pomona could be summed up in one succinct line: “Andy lives!” Like Warhol, Reynolds appropriated the products of pop culture and fixates on the disaster of American life; both artists rely on repetition and banality. Substitutes cereal boxes for soup cans and the 911 attack for Kennedy assassination, and the Reynolds-Andy connection becomes clear. However, while Warhol’s work continues to reveal more and more layers of irony and contradiction, Reynolds’ work tends toward the one-liner. While Andy kept his pop culture and disaster separate, Reynolds conflates the two. Not that the result aren’t entertaining. Breakfast of Champions is a large grid of repeating Wheaties boxes, and on each boxes Reynolds has composited a color portraits of Osama Bin Laden. Nestled there between the bowl of Wheaties and the Wheaties logo, one finger raised, Osama becomes a kindly health guru, winkling a broad smile.
Another work in this series also uses a repeating cereal box grid, this time with the cereal called Life, the logo printed in white over a blue sky with clouds. Again, Reynolds composited another portrait of Bin Laden, a gaze of unconditional love directed upon us, a gentle saint in white turban and robe, leading us to health now, and then to the eternal beyond. Ah! That gentle love flowing from his eyes in all the news photographs of Bin Laden now makes perfect sense. Yeow! Here he is indeed a powerful nemesis, elusive, unfathomable,. Is he a trickster, a spiritualist, a mastermind of treachery, or just a delivering another sales pitch? The questions raised here are so preposterous that we are forced to “turn the other cheek” and view Bin Laden from a totally different perspective.
Reynolds also reverses our perspective in a painting series, Cockpit View (#2) and (#3), where the viewer’s perspective is from within a darkened electric-blue airplane cockpit, its nose bearing straight toward the WTCenter. The determined hatred of the unseen pilot (us) in those few last seconds is palpable. A related series subversively questions the immediate American gut response to 911 attack. In three large scale works, a painted backdrop of a barren rocky terrain, perhaps over simplistically bland, meant to represent Afghanistan, is overlaid with neon tubing formed into a script attached to the background. The brightly colored neon of the first piece reads “I’m not here”. The second reads “Come out / Come out/ Wherever You Are / We Love You”. The third “We forgive and/ We love you very much and / can’t/ wait to see you/.
Quite defiant in its radical transformation of Bin Laden/the Taliban from evil monsters into prodigal children, this series wrenches upside down the knee jerk reaction of U.S. revenge and attack. This counter terror strategy of blatant forgiveness is a shocking paradigm shift. In art anything is possible…
The cereal box grid also include Serial Killer #1 and Serial Killers #2 wherein rows of Cheerios boxes with repeating heart shaped bowls of Cheerios are overlaid with glowing neon script listing the names of America’s most notorious serial killers: Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, etc.
A darkly humorous way to shed light (!) on the violent underbelly of American life, perhaps Andy is best utilized in these works. Earlier works leave Andy out, but do refer to another great American disaster. The Vietnam War appears as a ghostly memory in Sinking Ships, a series of parchment-like sculptures. Resin and rice paper are stretched around steel rod armatures to represent simple flat boats, then upended on the floor like fragile translucent wreckage - a mixture of beauty, death and transience. Earlier paintings recollect sunken ship connected with what also appears to be the Vietnam War. This works is quite different in style and texture from the recent work and seems like a big jump for one show. Even more fortunate, Reynolds has added numerous earlier works that range all over the visual and thematic map and the show disintegrates into a semblance of an undergraduate spring art show. Robert Reynolds could take one more tip from Andy: Less is more.