Madeleine Reyna is a young painter living, working, and exhibiting in Chicago. Last Fall, I had the pleasure of visiting her studio in Wicker Park. Entering Reyna’s workspace was a bit like stepping into a birthday party that had just exploded. Expressive, brightly colored works covered the walls, and lent the space a wild energy. Impressed by her creative choice of media and her exploratory approach to painting, I sat down with Reyna to learn more.
Miles Johnson: Tell me a bit about yourself and your artwork.
Madeleine Reyna: I’m 23 yrs old, and I’m from South Carolina. I got my B.A. at College of Charleston in Charleston, SC in 2009. I have been living and working here since. If I had to briefly write about my work I would describe it as representations of my specific visual taste, using poured paint, intense coloration, and glossy textures.
MJ: Could you talk a bit about your process when creating works?
MR: Everything I make starts with a color combination I want to present. From there I try to piece together interesting textures and shapes. I have little to no idea what the piece will look like when it’s finished. This is partly because the only planning I have consists of random sentences that describe future pieces, for example “rolled white vinyl in pink plywood box with gold glitter”, and also because I can’t fully control poured paint, specifically the way it’s going to dry. Coming into the studio the next day and seeing how something dried is a really intense moment. Trash it or love it? Miss the way it was when it was first poured or like it better now? I feel like I’m gambling with everything I make.
I almost always make paintings in one session; I have a short attention span and refuse to fuss with something. I rarely spend over an hour on the actual painting part of a piece. Putting together the hardware, for instance wrapping some stretcher bars in ribbon, or carving a foam surface may take hours, but once I start pouring I am close to the end. And if it’s not turning out right away, I scrap it. I realized this a few weeks ago and am kind of fascinated with it and what it means, but because I work this way I love everything I make. Good or bad, I’m still trying to make sense of that.
MJ: How does living in Chicago influence your creative practice?
MR: I came to Chicago last year because I got into SAIC. It has had the biggest impact on my work, introducing me to ideas, paintings, and people I never would have otherwise knew existed. Coming from South Carolina, and central Texas before that, I had little to no quality museum or art interaction. I would say as far as influences go, I have completely fallen for the Chicago Imagists. It’s fresh in my mind because I just saw his show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, but Jim Nutt’s work is a huge inspiration to me. I got to work with him last year, which is something that could only have happened in Chicago. I’m so grateful to be here.
MJ: How have people responded to your work until this moment? Are you ever shocked by this response? How do you handle these responses?
MR: I’ve gotten super mixed reviews, but that’s what you want, right? I would say what “shocks” me the most is the amount of the audience that tries to locate images within the poured shapes. Like “Oh, obviously that’s a man and his son fishing,” or “That’s a self portrait right?” I’m not blaming the audience because half of the time I have no idea what’s going on either, but the fact that people’s brains automatically work to visualize something they already know is something I find myself wanting to work against. I guess that’s where titling comes in for me. I hope it subverts the initial reaction to identify the image. So, if the painting looks like a giant chicken, I name it Beefteeth in the hopes that it will detract, and make someone appreciate the shapes, colors, and textures as they are.
MJ: Where would you like to see yourself and your work in the next 5 years?
MR: I want my MFA within 5 years, and I want to not work in retail. I want my work to be achieving the same thing, but differently. I also really want to be able to afford gallons and gallons of enamel.
MJ: Do you remember the first piece of work you ever created in your career? How does it compare to the most recent?
MR: Because I’m unsure about the career aspect of my painting life, I’ll answer this question in terms of the first thing I made in grad school which was an oil portrait on Mylar. It just seems so out of touch with what I was really wanting to make. I was still in the “representational is best because it showcases a talent” mode. My most recent piece is poured enamel on a four-inch thick slab of foam, which is inspired by the colors in a scene from Disney’s Three Caballeros. I am much happier with my new work.
MJ: What’s next?
MR: I’ve got a piece in the Repertoire show at Zolla Lieberman Gallery opening February 18th (through April 30th). I’m starting a series of paintings where the colors are taken from animated films that I feel determined my visual language, the first being the Three Caballeros piece.