Rob Reynolds engineers layered interplay between perfectionist rendering, stentorian art history, almost kitschy pop culture, and tropes of tourism propaganda. From snow-covered peaks and polar icebergs to iconic pictures of Earth from outer space, his paintings and video works are sophisticated and deadpan clever, while his sculptural materials are illusionistic with irony. All of it orbits around a core practice of engagement with ecological issues, and humanity’s role as both destroyer and ultimate hope for the planet. His remixed aspects of awareness opens new perspectives on complex topics, offering a emotion as context for the consequences of our actions.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
ROB REYNOLDS: I more or less constantly drew and built things as a kid, but I must have been fifteen or so when it really fell into place. I took a drawing class at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that I had been awarded in an art prize from the Boston Globe and loved it. The instructor was respectful and supportive, it was great to work alongside committed artists, I spent hours getting lost in the MFA, and felt at home in the world.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
I work with images, making paintings and sculpture and digital work with a focus on ecology and perception, referencing pop and conceptual art among other things. If their eyes glaze over: I say lately I have been painting shipwrecks, botanicals, suns, and icebergs based on a recent trip to the Arctic, and we go from there…
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I’d be a doctor.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
Yes. I look at art school as a privilege and not a necessity, but I am all for it. While you can’t be taught to be an artist, I look at art as a discourse with a historical, intellectual, and most importantly social aspect, and there are so many useful technical skills to learn (and then perhaps, unlearn). The most helpful part of my art school experience was what came after: letting it settle in, working for, listening to and showing with other artists. Now I learn a lot from my students.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I came kicking and screaming from New York more than ten years ago and now I wouldn’t leave. For all of its inborn eco-insanity, the housing crisis, etc., I love the incredible stillness in the morning, the strange light, my art studio, the smart-funny-interesting and decent people; the sense of possibility that endures even during the pandemic — and my family loves to surf.
When was your first show?
A million years ago: The Boston Museum School, 1983-ish. First grown-up show: Artists Space, NYC, 1990.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I have a painting show up through June 4 at Anthony Meier Fine Arts in San Francisco, and will show work I have been making with earth scientists through a fellowship with the Berggruen Institute’s Transformations of the Human program soon.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
Incessantly. Even with all the options, radio has been a solid pandemic companion. Because my hands are usually covered in paint, when I get to the studio I turn on the hi-fi for company and leave it on one station or another. I especially appreciate the KCRW DJs for being such good, truthful, stoic company in crazy times: the lockdown, the grief of the George Floyd murder, the insurrection…
At one time or another they played: Stevie Wonder – Heaven is Ten Zillion Light Years Away; Bob Dylan – New Morning; Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir – Like A Ship (Without a Sail); Jackson Browne, Late for the Sky; Idles Never Fight a Man With a Perm; Erik B. And Rakim – In the Ghetto; The Fall – L.A.; Khruangbin – Summer Madness; Joe Wong – Dreams Wash Away; Slayer – Seasons in the Abyss; Anna Waronker – California Fade; James Brown – People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul; Roxy Music – Mother of Pearl; LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yourself Clean; The Lazy Eyes – Where’s My Brain; Redd Kross – You Better Stay Away from Downtown; The Gun Club – Bad America; Craig Wedren – I Am A Wolf. You Are The Moon; Mommy, What’s A Funkadelic – Funkadelic; and finally, David Lynch’s uncanny weather report every morning: “Enjoy those beautiful blue skies, and golden sunshine, all along the way.”
Website and social media handles, please!