Interview: Dean Reynolds
Dean Reynolds is an american artist who's work can be described as Psychadelic Surrealism. His work explores ideas of mythology, religion, psychology and surrealist ideas. His work is a mixture of humor, Dr. Seuss, Alice in Wonderland, and the complex ideas of Carl Jung. His work combines seriousness with the silly. Images that are accessible and yet still a mystery.
Your artwork exhibits incredible technical skill in both drawing and painting. Can you tell us a little about your artistic journey? When did these skills develop?
I have always found the approach to making work with great technical means both challenging and intriguing. Challenging, because it’s a skill, or a set of skills, that needs practice, honing, experience, and diligence. Intriguing, because you always come across limitations, things that you don’t have any previous knowledge of.
While in undergrad, I wanted to develop those skills of rendering form, space, and light via painting and drawing.I spent a great deal of time sketching and doodling in sketchbooks that I always carried with me. Outside of class, I went to open studio figure drawing sessions and open figure painting sessions as much as possible. My education was in service to a very traditional way of painting, which allowed me to create a window to a world by understanding perspective, anatomy, light, space.
It was in graduate school that the pursuit of technical skill became a way to create a world on a two-dimensional surface that was not about being realistic.
Tell us about your artistic process. Your paintings are incredibly complex. What goes into developing and planning each piece?
It begins with an idea, from reading something or an image that comes to me. It generally arrives from doing thumbnail sketches or quick sketches. From there, I prepare a canvas and make a small, quick oil sketch of the image. I tone the canvas a dark brown and from there I draw out the basic forms with a white charcoal pencil. I lay down the basic forms. The drawing is just a guide, not something that I will follow exactly as blueprint.
I guess I should be specific and use the painting Pychopomp Manabohzo as an example. It coincided with reading a great deal of Native American mythologies and sacred narratives. This image started out as a basic little thumbnail sketch in graphite pencil. It is a small drawing of a rabbit-like creature on a path. Tentacles emanate from the creature’s head, which also has a human face. In the distance, circular clouds form in the background horizon.
I built a somewhat square canvas, toned it, and began to draw out the basic design. From there, I began with the sky. I worked on the clouds, building up form by direct painting, scumbling and glazing. When I got to the forms on the horizon, I wanted to do something different from the small sketch. I then worked on some more small sketches of what might be there instead. I made some sketches of flower figures that were not flowers. I then made refined pencil sketches of these flower-figures and then made a small oil sketch of these forms. I went back to work and worked those out on the canvas. Since the color of the work was dominated by cool blues and violets, I made the choice that some warmer colors needed to be introduced. I made the path a reddish hue to pull the viewer through the painting. The path has a strange texture of either broken plates, or some might say raw meat, but it offers a visceral texture for the eye. With the rabbit figure, I knew that I had to paint every hair, every hair had to be visually felt. What also was informing the work was the images, symbols and figures of Native American mythos. The rabbit, or the Manabohzo, is a trickster figure. The rabbit is a creator figure that brought forth the Elk and was the guide to the spirits of the dead. The rabbit never runs straight, but in a zig-zag pattern as is the path in the painting. Since it is the master of knowledge and giving life, the two tentacles balance two symbols, the acorn and a key. The acorn is the symbol of life, potential, and birth, and the key unlocks doors, doors to knowledge and wisdom. The reason it has antlers is reference to its creation of the elk. The image is one of turning and of cyclical progress. The clouds and landscape contrast each other; the clouds turn upward and the land downward. The word Psychopomp is an obscure word. It means a spirit guide. The spirit guide is not just the guide of the spirits of the dead but a guide to transformation, to transition, to wisdom.
You have described your work as being influenced by the ideas of Carl Jung, psychological and surrealist ideas. When did your fascination with psychology begin? What aspects of these theories have inspired your work the most?
My interest in Jung has been with me for several years. It began with great vigor when I attended grad school. He is not the easiest to read and that is why I find his work intriguing. There are Jungians like James Hillman and Marie-Louis von Franz who are more approachable in their explanation of Jungian ideas. Unlike Freud, Jung saw the mind or the human situation as not just mechanically fixed but as organic, transformative. His ideas about the collective archetypes, the idea that we all share common themes, expressions, and symbols through our mythologies, religions, even rituals have always captured my interests. Jung was interested in many areas that would be considered irrelevant or not worth investigation, such as Alchemy, the Occult, and the I Ching; the ideas of the Anima/Animus (the masculine/feminine), the shadow aspect of the psyche (that which is hidden or suppressed) and the complex subtly of the approach to the individual; and then lastly his active imagination as a method of understanding.
My work is very inspired by those ideas, and the things that Jung and other Jungians delved into. Mythologies, The Occult, numerology, other religious, and the symbolism with all of those areas. The complexity of Jung is something that is happening in my work. The work I do is invested with those interests, the masculine and the feminine, the symbolism and narratives of mythos, and the use of imagination for understanding. Jung was working through language, and I am working primarily through the visual. I always find new things in Jung’s work that surprise me and add to my visual vocabulary. The work becomes otherworldly and it is worth several viewings to plumb some deeper discoveries. My work is about making those discoveries for myself, and I hope the viewer also gains something.
In 2015, you received the Griffin Art Prize, which included a four-week residency in London. Tell me about your experience with the London art scene. What impact did this experience have on you an artist, as well as your artwork as a whole?
The London art scene was much like the city: big, cosmopolitan, and surprising. I had the opportunity to attend the London Frieze Art Fair, the Tate Modern, the Gagosian and White Cube Galleries, as well as small out of the way galleries. Like the city, there was always something around the corner. It was a constant surge of people, visitors, you name it.
I feel that when I left London for home I had a better understanding of my work and myself. I do not think that I could live and make work in that environment. The work I do is done in a form of isolation, away from the hustle and bustle of a loud city. If I were twenty, I could see myself in that kind of environment, but now I need to be away from the distractions. To be clear, my work is not about being on the cutting edge, but on something altogether different, the edge of the conscious mind.
Your paintings, like The Cosmic Dharma of Bears, have such bizarre imagery that do not appear from this world, as if from a dream. Do you discover the imagery from your paintings in your own dreams or psyche, or are they influenced by outside sources?
It very much depends on circumstances. The Cosmic Dharma of Bears came out of my interests in Buddhism. This is not to say that the painting is a direct translation. Rather it was from allowing my mind, imagination, subconscious to explore the ideas. It’s starting in one place and then ending up in another location. I am taking a journey across country at night with only the head lights of the car to guide me. The work is from the psyche and outside sources. Each work has connections to other sources, ideas, and influences.
In what aspect of your daily life do you find the most inspiration and motivation for your artwork?
I am basically a homebody. I read books and listen to music. The time most valuable and meaningful is in the evening. When all is quiet, the sun is down, and I am sitting in my apartment/studio around my work, studies or drawings, listening to ambient music or something that has an evening vibe.
What surrealist artist do you relate to the most and why?
here are so many to mention. It would be hard to say specifically. I will say that there was a time Dali was interesting, but I have moved on to others of the classic period of surrealism. I have become very interested in the work of Max Ernst. At first, I was not really attracted to his work, but I have grown to really like the striking images he has created. I have come to really delve into his book of surreal collages, Une Semaine de Bonte.The work of Remedios Varos provides more great images for me to ponder. These two artists have done things that I find surprising, original, and difficult. The work intrigues me. I want to see if I can manifest such work from myself as they.
There is a contemporary surrealist artist, if we can use that term, for an artist from Thailand. Prateep Kochabua, an astoundingly skilled painter with stunning imagery that mixes surreal with the mythological and cultural of the southeast Asia. His craftsmanship is superb, and the images are so well handled and composed. I see him as someone whom I can learn from. He is doing things I wish I had thought of. His images contain depths of cultural symbols of his background in a way that is otherworldly. I could sit in front of his work for hours. He makes me want to be a better painter and believe there are still many possibilities to the visual that can be communicated.