The human figure is the most common subject in the visual art world. It is something probably every artist has attempted at some point in their career and/or training. It continues to challenge both the painter and the patron. And it being such a common subject it can point out the most subtle differences between one artist and another. Two artists from the same town, who went to the same school, and handed the same set of paints to paint the same person, will give you wildly different results. Personally, it is something I struggle with quite a bit, so when I see it done well, I am quite intrigued. So when I came across the work of Reuben Negron, I was very intrigued. His work was not only technically impressive, but had a level of vibrancy and emotion that really made you understand something about the subjects. Whether he is choosing to give a highly detailed background to his subject, or leave them standing in dead space, it does something to intensify part of the subject’s character. He has a sense of light that feels real and imaginary at the same time, like you could step into the work and have super powers or something.
I was originally introduced to Reuben’s work through the recent Art’s not Fair show at Like the Spice Gallery in Brooklyn. Mr. Negron had a very interesting installation of his work. He had three areas set up with the sketches, color studies, and photographs that influenced one of his finished pieces. Then to view the final piece, patrons needed to use their smart phones to follow a link from a QR code. The installation studies come off like the introduction to a story. It is almost like reading the back cover to a novel you might buy. Before you read the full story or view the final piece, your mind is already starting to piece together how the different elements might come together. He calls for you to participate in order to see the final piece. You don’t just move on down to the next chunk of wall space, you have to interact with the QRC code and find the finished piece online. With this, his work becomes very investigative. When you see the final piece you start to see how the developing ideas fed into that completed work. And then within the final piece itself you begin to piece together certain elements about the individual that might have sparked Rueben’s interest and inspiration in the first place. Our homes are often a reflection of who we are, so what are these homes telling us about the subject? Through the nudity of the figures and the natural state of their surroundings, Rueben gives you a full portrait of the individual’s pure physical form and cultural identity.
Perhaps the aspect of this whole experience that I like is the fact that the finished piece is the thing he is keeping from us. The part of the work that took the most time, and he makes us work to get it. Is this a statement that to him, the process is more important than the finished product? Is he trying to comment on the fact that people often only appreciate something they have worked for, rather than something that is just handed to them? Whatever reason he has for this, it is innovative. I have a feeling we will see more of this kind of thing in the near future. His incorporation of this QRC code and the use of popular technology got me thinking a lot how this kind of thing might change the way we experience art. Museums and galleries might end up doing away with the audio tours and provide patrons with QRC codes that connect to an audio file through the phone they are already carrying around. Maybe some artists will do the opposite of what Rueben did and provide links from the finished piece to show interested parties the process they underwent to create the piece. Or it could be a way people leave feedback on art they see for others to reflect on. You could visit a gallery and instantly post your reaction to it for others to participate in some kind of a social interaction based on the art. Perhaps I am going to far with this, but it does certainly get me thinking, which contrary to what some ex-girlfriends might say, I believe is a good thing.
* To clarify how the installation was set up, there was an installation of the various studies as in the pic: “Safara Study”, accompanied by one of those weird QR code images. With the right app on your smartphone, this would link you to a high res pic of the finished piece, “Safara,” that was nowhere else to be seen in the gallery.