For the second installment of The Inner Eye I had a chance to interview one of my favorite contemporary painters, Reinier Gamboa. Reinier’s work is one that defies classification, possessing elements of surrealism, illustration, expressionism, as well as both resentational art and abstraction. Reinier’s work is one of contrasts: expression and control, heavy handed impasto combined with meticulous draftsmanship, ambiguity juxtaposed with the literal, all reflective of the teeming paradoxes of our constructed realities. Reinier discussed his upbringing in Cuba, and how his lifestyle and philosophy is reflected in the content and aesthetic of his works.
SolPurpose: Tell me a bit about your background and how your upbringing influenced your life’s path as an artist.
RG: I lived in Cuba until the age of 11. Growing up in that culture and environment was an interesting contrast when compared to my life here in the US. My biggest artistic influences in those years were my father and grandfather. I grew up watching my dad paint and played the earliest game of free association drawing with my grandfather. I also spent a lot of time on my roof staring at clouds.
SolPurpose: What do you think about when you create? Would you say your work comes through more analytical or intuitive functions?
RG: I aim for a balance between the two. When it comes to discovering I allow my intuition to take over. It’s a back and forth dance between analytical classical modes and intuitive experimental processes.
SolPurpose: Your work stands out as astonishing original. Are there any artists that you would credit as having a significant influence on you? In your artistic development did you ever reach a point where your artwork too heavily reflected your influences? How did you cultivate your unique style?
RG: For the first 11 years my main influence was my father. When I moved to the states a family friend gave me my first art supplies. It was a box of eclectic materials that sported, in its front, a full color reproduction of Dali’s “Hallucinogenic Toreador“. That piece had a great impact on my young mind and I became obsessed with Dali. He is still the artist I am most compared to. Although I don’t necessarily agree with that, I can see why the comparison would be made since I am drawn to surreal imagery, but I consciously early on decided that I would not imitate his creations, simply distill the essence and learn from them so that my art could be more rich. That is my approach with all of the art I observe. What is the essence? What is the mood? What qualities do I observe? I enjoy looking at all types of work, from rigorously academic work like Ingres to the work of Robert Rauschenberg, who is a big influence and inspiration. My style is an attempt at uniting opposites and finding rhythms within these juxtapositions.
SolPurpose: Where do the ideas for your artwork come from? Can you tell me about a few specific pieces and where you got the ideas from?
RG: They come from everywhere. Dreams, music, a piece of gum stuck underneath my shoe. I think there is so much untapped potential in the way that we could think. Our thinking process can be scrambled. My approach is to be playful with the process of brainstorming and creating since I find that to be the most fulfilling. I’m usually bored if I know what something will look like, which is why I’m not very fond of simply copying a reference I might be using. It’s important to remember epiphanies and constantly remind myself of possible alternative pathways of potentialities embedded in every moment. That is the biggest challenge.
SolPurpose: You have mentioned DMT and Ayahuasca in your artwork before. How have psychedelic experiences shaped your work?
RG: My main experience has been one of using psilocybin in a private context with the purpose of exploring my psyche and gaining insights into my relationship to myself and the cosmos. These experiences have been profound and very helpful at different points in my life. I respect these substances and believe they are tools for alternative levels of awareness and should be used with the proper intention. The most drastic result of these experiences is a shattering or reconfiguration of identity, or at the very least, an opening into the mystery of who we are. This has influenced my work in the sense that I don’t feel culturally bound in my work and I’m free to imagine and explore my imagination from any possible point in space or time.
SolPurpose: What about Terence McKenna. How has his philosophy shaped your work?
RG: The great wordsmith is an inspiration in lucid association. The way he speaks is similar to how I hope to draw. Moving effortlessly through libraries of thought. I am as much influenced by McKenna as I am by Alan Watts.
SolPurpose: Do you ever wish you had taken up a different occupation? Do you ever feel like you’re wasting life experience by spending all of your time in your studio?
RG: No. Although I don’t spend all of my time in the studio. My biggest fear is to be a slave and that includes being a slave to art. There’s a certain amount of devotion and sacrifice one has to endure to become great at something like drawing and painting. I am not as good as I can be because I fear falling into the well of obsessive art-making and miss out on life. Life outside of the studio is just as important as life in the studio and it’s the way in which those two interact that allow for a harmonious symphony of relationships.
SolPurpose: Your work has a large element of abstraction but also displays remarkable abilities in draftsmanship and fundamentals in realism. How do you go about bridging the gap between abstract and representation in your work?
RG: The way I see it is abstraction is realism and realism is abstraction. They are two sides of the same coin. I want to have range in my work and that’s why I incorporate abstract elements to signal to the viewer that beyond this point of recognition lies an ocean of mystery.
SolPurpose: How do you support yourself? What is your favorite project you’ve worked on? The worst?
RG: I make a living selling my work. Once in a while I’ll do some illustration work but mainly I sell my drawings and paintings. My personal work is really what fulfills me and drives me to create. I’m also not very good at taking orders or direction so I have to tread my own path through the jungle and follow the serendipitous journey. My favorite experience is being able to speak to people at events or festivals while I’m live painting. There are always interesting surprises that happen. For example, the last time I painted at Lightning in a Bottle I did a piece of an old couple. Behind me as I worked I overheard two people who didn’t know each other strike a conversation that quickly became what seemed like love at first sight. Somehow the feeling of joy I tried to capture in the painting began to be reflected by a meeting of strangers around me. That was really cool.
SolPurpose: What’s the best advice you can give someone aspiring to become a professional artist? Do you advocate art schooling?
RG: Art school is not for everyone but I suggest at least to attend figure drawing workshops as much as possible. Surrounding yourself with people who are actively involved in the process of creating is just as important as attending any school. Artists need support from their peers and from my experience while attending art institutions, I can say I learned as much from students as I did from teachers.
SolPurpose: Do you believe artists have the power to influence their audiences for the betterment of the world at large? What do you hope your audience gains from your work?
RG: Art Saves! It’s saved me and continues to do so. I believe art is a tool for transformation but one has to be ready. Not everyone can be receptive to art. But, for those that are, I only hope they feel a sense of wonder and awe that inspires them to feel and enjoy life to the fullest. After all, we’re only here for a little bit.
SolPurpose: Does your work have any specific intentional meaning? Do you think art absolutely requires intentional meaning and that aesthetic alone is not sufficient?
RG: What is intentional and not intentional? We have to redefine what all of this means to us. When something is intentional, does it mean that my ego has decided what is right and wrong? When something is unintentional, does it mean it comes from a place beyond my ego, a deeper place, or simply by chance ( which some see as an invalid method ). One can set out to work with a specific intention or not, to me it doesn’t matter. What matters to me is the process of creation, especially discovery, to reach for the mystery.
SolPurpose: What planet are you from and are they all amazing artists there?
RG: LOL. I am from this planet. The most familiar and yet alien of all planets. In my opinion the most alien is the most familiar and being able to see that is well, an epiphany!