By Art Donovan
Artist Doug Reina, based in Setauket, has years of experience as both a noted plein air and studio painter and also as a commercial artist. At one time, he was a serious cartoonist with his work published in The New Yorker magazine and King Features Syndicate. From creating art for publications to gallery exhibitions and being featured in venues such as the Heckscher Museum of Art, Mr. Reina has an impressive curriculum vitae. Such is the variegated path of artists with abilities and imagination.
In 2014, those artistic abilities won Mr. Reina the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Grant. But receiving an award like that can be a double-edged sword for an artist. They may feel obligated to creatively “freeze up” and repeat the mode and style of the works that won them the award—or they may venture into new and unfamiliar artistic areas before they’re ready. However, Mr. Reina is a patient man and he didn’t let the award derail him from the creative tempo he was engaged in. He used the award as it was intended and it financed creation of a proper art studio. But since that time, his approach has been keenly morphing into a new style. It is that very style that I found so impressive.
Rendering his poetic and seemingly serene images of life by the shore with an impressionist’s eye, his new series of paintings is taking on a spontaneous life of its own while he explores surface, colors, values and geometry. In a word, he was “ready” for exploration and he recognized it. Mr. Reina is currently taking rich advantage of his new approach to painting.
No longer chained to representing his subjects in their photorealistic or literal form, Mr. Reina is breaking up his compositions of outdoor life into graphic but still recognizable images and planes. The viewer immediately gets a “Hopper” influence in his paintings, but without the overt melancholy or melodrama. Mr. Reina’s palette is rich with clean, modernist tones that are sometimes bright and other times wonderfully subdued. He employs loose and spontaneous brush strokes in these paintings. This brushwork implies the “movement” and creates a lively surface—pleasing to the mind as well as the eye. Details in his subject matter take a back seat to planes of graphic and well-illuminated surfaces. He paints his outdoor scenes as they appear, some including common objects like those old-fashioned, white plastic lawn chairs. Another artist may feel the need to omit or even replace that ungainly chair with a fashionable element to keep the image cloyingly current and desirable, but not Mr. Reina. There are no “beautiful” elements in his works, yet his world, weeds and all, is beautiful as he renders it—a current scene found anywhere on the East End. Thus he makes these scenes iconic and timeless by mature, artistic intention. Viewing his new paintings, a phrase walks through my mind: “This is the ‘real deal.’”
There is neither struggle nor contemporary artistic pretense in Doug Reina’s paintings and, in an art world dominated by slick techniques and trendy styles, that is a most refreshing experience. Mr. Reina’s latest works, often oil-on-panel, have a modernist’s dispatch, turning an unremarkable subject/scene into wonderfully satisfying and recognizable images. In this, his work becomes transcendent, whereby the painted realization of the subject is more important than the personality of the artist behind it. There is space for contemplation in his images as he generously allows the viewer a wide emotional berth. Mr. Reina’s well-intended omission of “contemporary splash” and trendy techniques earns for him canvases that will easily pass the test of time.
Mr. Reina is displaying his newest works in a group show titled, “Viewed – From an Artist’s Perspective” at the South Street Gallery, 18 South Street, Greenport, through August 28. You can view his works at dougreina.com.
Art Donovan is a Southampton artist and the author of “The Art of Steampunk.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org.