I met artist Albert Reyes while standing in line to enter Giant Robot Biennale 2 at the Japanese American National Museum, where he has an installation. We began chatting and, after running into him again later on in the evening, I asked to interview him for LA Weekly. He said yes and added that I should check out his Halloween art maze. The following weekend, I headed out to a house party to walk through a maze/art gallery compact enough to fit inside an average-sized LA backyard yet winding enough to provide ten minutes or so of screaming good fun.
Built of found materials, Reyes' maze was reflective of his artwork as a whole. Though he is well known for his detailed drawings of regular people and pop culture icons on book covers, the overall statement is made through the way he compiles these individual drawings into a large, almost mosaic-like, installation, mixing them with old photographs and found objects like TVs and suitcases. After Halloween, I chatted with Reyes over the phone about the maze and his work at Giant Robot Biennale. The latter runs through January 24.
What was the concept behind the Halloween maze?
The concept behind it was to make something artistic and fun that adults can go through and get scared and have fun. It kind of takes you back to your childhood.
How long did it take to build?
It took a year, but I changed it around a lot. I worked on it on and off for a year.
You used found materials, right?
Yeah, it's pretty much all found material or materials that were given to me.
Where did you find the stuff?
In alleys and behind businesses, stuff like that.
Did that take the longest?
Pretty much. I would go out and look. People throw out old bed frames. I would find pallets on the street.
When you built it, did you intend for it to be an art exhibit as well?
Well, I make a lot of artwork and the things that didn't sell, I would throw it in there, add it to the wall. Then I have friends who are artists as well, like Matt Furie and Aiyana Udesen, I would have them draw or spray paint in there. Do some scary drawings.
With your own work, is the drawing itself or the installation as a whole that is the statement?
The drawing is something that I do on my own, but when I put it together as part of an installation or the maze that I built, you can see it as one small part of the maze. It becomes a part of the whole. Normally, when I draw, they're just individual pieces.
I'm always constantly building on a body of work. I don't see it as a show here or a show there or having stuff in a maze or having stuff in someone's house. It's my life's work, from when I started to when I die, just one large body of work. I don't feel like I have a separation. I just keep making pieces and if I have other pieces lying around, then I keep adding and keep going.
It's all ideas and things that I'm already interested in, like I get inspiration from other artists and friends and I try to go along with things that are relevant to my life, like politics and religion, family and friends, pop culture, media. I just filter all that stuff in my work. I put out what I take in, I guess.
Does the music you listen to inspire what you do too?
Yeah, I'm into dark stuff and industrial music, the darker side of things. It's weird because it doesn't make me violent or depressed or angry or anything. It kind of makes me happy.
Speaking of dark, I noticed in your work, you include images like Elvira and Lydia from Beetlejuice.
Yeah, those are things I grew up with, like watching Elvira. She's just so beautiful and voluptuous, I have to have her as part of my work.
Have you ever thought about doing the maze in a public setting?
Yeah, I would love to do that. It just hasn't worked out where I feel like I have enough space to do what I want to do. Eventually, I hope that opportunity comes around. I would like to do it in a warehouse or something and just go crazy with my artwork and building a maze. It would be really fun.
Do you still have the maze up?
It's still up, but I'm in the process of taking it down. It will be back again next year in a different form. I just take it all down, stack it up and put plastic over it until next year. I'll reuse all the materials. It's all held together with metal plates and screws, so basically all I have to do is unscrew it. There's more than a thousand screws in that thing.
Did you have a theme for your Giant Robot Biennale installation?
It's about America and where we're headed. I get so frustrated with politicians and politics. It doesn't seem like anything ever changes. We're still at war. A lot of people still don't have health care. Guantanamo Bay is still going.
It's basically about America and the greed of America, the greed of capitalism and the greed of religion. It's just a reflection of our culture.
In your pieces, I've noticed TV sets and suitcases. Do you spend a lot of time hunting for those things?
Believe it or not, I find a lot of it just driving down the streets in LA. You can find suitcases and TV sets. People just throw it out. People have so much stuff that when they get new stuff, they just throw it out with their trash. I just drive and see it, a suitcase a TV or a box of books, and I just grab it. That's how I transport my work, I just put it in a suitcase.